Call Centre Outsourcing and the NHS


Call Centre Outsourcing and the NHS

Dan -Feathered

It's without doubt a tough environment out there as organisations look to protect the bottom line by improving efficiencies.  But when your customers are patients and you are working in an atmosphere of aggressive cuts, what can be done to ensure patient care and services are adequately protected?


With the Government looking to achieve £20bn efficiency savings in the NHS by 2015 - an ambitious figure particularly when considering it accounts for just under 20% of current spend - concerns have been raised that the quality of care will come under threat.


Figures released in March of this year show that the number of nurses in the UK is already down by 3,500 and that management teams have also been cut by 8.9%.  Management consultants have suggested that the NHS should lose a further one in ten of its 1.4m workforce in order to save additional money.   No doubt there is a business case for this but it would be hard to argue that there will be no impact on front line care. 


But what are the alternatives?  Earlier this month NHS hospitals were invited by the Government to set up profit-making branches abroad to raise funds for patients at home and promote the international profile of the health service.  An interesting notion, but one that may take time and considerable investment to bear fruit.


Reassuringly it remains a priority to protect patient services.  As Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, told the Independent, "The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients comes before profits.  At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20bn of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients."


One area that has been heralded a success is the NHS Direct service which, since its launch in 2000, has seen more than 4.3m calls received each year or more than 12,000 calls a day.  This has allowed patients to quickly and easily discuss issues or concerns with appropriate people which, in turn, have relieved pressure on front line A&E employees.


Additionally, a new appointments line, launched in 2007, now handles more than 8,000 calls per day with more than 80% of these from people with symptoms or looking to urgently make an appointment with a doctor.   These improvements have led to high levels of customer satisfaction with 92% of callers expressing that they were happy with the service they received and with compliments outweighing complaints by more than two and a half to one.


Admittedly, the above is on a large national scale, but there can also be significant improvements made on a more local or smaller scale such as GP surgeries, dental practices or Primary Care Trusts as even exceptional reception staff cannot answer the phone and deal with an urgent medical appointment simultaneously.  By using outsourced call handling support, such organisations can improve not only the service they provide to local patients but can also reduce their operating costs by outsourcing some, or all, of their inbound calls.


Outsourcing their calls to third party handlers who have experience in managing such calls will mean that phones are answered promptly, the correct information will be taken down first time and that surgery reception staff will be freed up to meet and greet visitors to the practice.  Appointments can be booked remotely, and updated simultaneously, which gives a better patient experience and can reduce costs as there will be no need to staff up the reception to manage busier times or to cover holidays, illness or lunch breaks.


Choosing the right partner is also critical to protect the patient and offer the right level of service.  The call handling partner will need to have access to the right technologies which can offer seamless call handling, the option to take messages or book appointments as well as quality people who can handle calls and adequately represent the organisation they support.


It's likely that as the age of austerity remains community practices, PCTs and organisations across the NHS will continue to face challenging cuts.  But the evidence shows that with the right support and use of available technologies, good and efficient management of patients need not be a casualty.

Written by Dan Shering at 10:30



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