HEALTH chiefs have begun fining the private firm Care UK for breaching targets of the 111 non-emergency health phoneline in Wiltshire.

The 111 service has struggled to meet targets since it began operating from a call centre in Bristol in February 2013, in particular sending ambulances to patients with minor ailments.

The latest figures show the 111 service is sending more ambulances than its contract states.

The contract says less than ten per cent of calls should result in an ambulance being dispatched but in the past six months it has only achieved that rate twice and most of the time it has been 13 per cent.

Care UK also breached targets on referring callers to hospital emergency departments and transferring callers to speak to a clinical advisor.

The 111 service was originally run by another private firm Harmoni, which was taken over by Care UK.

Earlier this year the company began consulting employees on new shift patterns, but a number of staff left.

Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group director Jo Cullen told the county’s health select committee: “From May 2014 we can implement financial penalties for non-delivery against a number of key performance indicators, which we have started to do.”

She said the 111 service had seen unprecedented demand and the call centre now received more than 50,000 calls a month, most of which were appropriately managed. Hospital emergency departments had also experienced an unseasonal spike in activity.

An updated report will be given in November.