Durham patients forced to wait for an answer

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ALMOST one in four calls to the NHS’s new non-emergency number goes unanswered.

Figures show County Durham was the lowest performing of four pilot areas for the service, designed to ease the burden of hospitals.

But health officials say the figure is only one in 10 when only direct calls to the 111 number are taken into account.

The number was launched in County Durham in August last year.

It was then rolled out to Lincolnshire, Luton and Nottingham.

Ministers wanted 111 to become the only number patients needed if they required urgent, but non-life-threatening medical help or advice.

New statistics showed that during September, 12 per cent of calls across the four areas went unanswered. For Durham it was nearer 23 per cent.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “This figure does not mean patients are receiving a poor service.”