NHS Direct – Comedy Hour!

I’d like to share a story with you, dear blog reader, about NHS Direct. This is partly due to my hurtie leg problem (see Owie, Ouchie or Hurtie post) but also my desire to share my general opinion of this service. I’ve called NHS Direct a dozen times over the last several years and the quality of service has ranged from perfect professionalism to abysmal joke.

It should be noted that some of these events are completely false –  a riot of fictional inaccuracies. However, some are not – behind every dirty lying troll is a fairy of honesty. Either way this is what I’m reporting.

Shut Down!

About 2 years ago it was announced that the NHS Direct service will be shut down within a matter of weeks and replaced with 4 phone lines in an abandoned BBC broom cupboard manned by immigrant midget’s who don’t speak English. Excellent news, doncha think? What a smart move by our poorly elected government.

With this brilliant revelation made by the new coalition gang, I mean government, I decided to go undercover and get a job as an NHS Direct call centre operator to find out how this move was being received by the staff and what it was really like working as a professional medical technician. I’ll tell you now, it was a hoot!

Everybody knows…

When you get a lickul spot on the end of your nose, or a teeny tiny paper cut or anything that is a little bit painful – the most basic of owie’s – you have to phone NHS Direct. If you don’t you risk the scorn of your chums and the risk of an owie becoming an ouchie, which is unacceptable. With the Healthy & Safety laws being the way they are, pretty soon it will be illegal to die and no one should be allowed to get injured…ever.

Once connected to an advisor you are asked lots of very silly questions by someone without an iota of sympathy. 99% of the time you are instructed to make your way to the your local medicine man/woman-in-a-cave/shaman/aboriginal ju-ju man or, in real emergencies, the ER at your nearest hospital. Personally I choose woman-in-a-cave every time to avoid being molested by an overweight red-faced unsympathetic nurse who treats you like something she/he has just scraped off her/his shoe.

My First Day – Training.

My hours were 8am – 4pm for the day shift, so I arrived at 9.30am munching on a Big Mac and sucking down the rest of my choccy milkshake. No one cared or noticed my tardiness. Along with 9 other people I was ushered into a small training room and handed a thin ring binder by a man wearing a red bow tie with white spots. He didn’t introduce himself and we all assumed he was our trainer. He spent 15 minutes explaining the job role of an NHS Direct Call Centre Operator:

1) Answer Phone – take your time, no rush, finish watching the end of CSI Whatever if you like.

2) Ask the patient the random questions that appear on the screen – if interrupted go back a few questions and start again.

3) Instruct the patient to visit their local medicine man/woman-in-a-cave/shaman/aboriginal ju-ju man.

4) Say: “Have a nice day” in a bright cheery voice then hang up before they can ask anything else.

The ring binder has 4 sheets of paper in it.

Each sheet had a picture depicting rules 1-4 just in case the trainee couldn’t read. 3 out of the 10 people in the training room admitted they not only couldn’t read but had difficulty forming words at all. It took them 50 minutes to get this point across. The trainer shrugged and sipped from his hip flask. Under my desk I noticed a bedraggled mongrel sniffing my crotch. The tramp next to me smiled and held out his hand for a hi-5. I pretended he wasn’t there by paying close attention to the end of my pen.

At lunch I loitered outside the sweetie shop.

This was next to the hospital entrance, between the hot dog stand and Burger King.

Seriously, go take a look at any large English hospital and you’ll find a Burger King or KFC or some other form of fat drenched “meat” in a bucket. I always rofl when I see a guy in a backless robe, holding his bag of piss and dragging his drip beside him, on his way to chow on a McFarBurger after open heart surgery! Why do hospitals stick fast junk food places inside hospitals? Is this to encourage patients to increase their risk of further medical shit in order to keep the staff busy and in paid employment?

So, back to the story.

My trainee pals and I ridiculed the burger scoffing patients and harassed the attractive sweetie sales-lady until she threw Skittles at us so we’d leave. We didn’t. Security was called. Strong words were exchanged and security left with pockets filled with Skittles. After lunch (2 hours) we returned to the training room and watched a training video of an NHS Direct phone operator talking to patients. She moved through points 1-4 very well with the first patient. Our trainer paused it and pointed out the big grin on the operators face. “When you smile it goes down the phone line to the customer,” he said.

Two people left the room immediately and didn’t return.

In the afternoon we are shown around the call centre.

It was very noisy. Computers beeped, crisps packets rustled and paper planes glided through the air.  At the far end of the room a tic-tac man was stood on a wooden crate. He waved his arms around but no one took any notice of him. In one corner a collection of cubicles were being used for a COD Modern Warfare knock-out competition. After 35 minutes learning the un-intuitive software, spinning out chairs around very fast, wearing headsets and pretending to be flight traffic controllers, we were given a certificate declaring we had passed our training.

Our trainer told us to be here bright and early at 8am the next day.

9.30am The Next Day

I stroll through the car park and meet up with my fellow new ex-trainees who were lounging outside the front doors. The tramp greets me with a drunken smile, his dog tries to hump my leg. We share a beer and wander inside to the call centre. Apart from a handful of die-hard phone operators who “love their job,” the rest of the front line medical experts were in the staff room cheering on Kayleigh, a 52-year-old NHS Direct veteran. She was gyrating her hips as she stood on a coffee table whilst chugging down a 2 litre bottle of Cherry Coke. It was her last day, she was leaving to become a BT Customer Advisor Trainer in Bangalore. Party poppers exploded and champagne is served in cracked tea stained Tesco mugs.

By the time I arrive at my desk I’m a bit dizzy so I call NHS Direct.

I’m told to visit my local medicine man/woman-in-a-cave/shaman/aboriginal ju-ju man and wished a nice day. I visited the woman-in-a-cave who put leeches on my bottom and made me drink something that looked (and tasted – trust me) like cat sick. I went home and spent the afternoon doing research on the thrilling world of medical practice. I watched a documentary about how doctors in the real world cope with the demands of the medical lifestyle, it was called Scrubs.

Getting into the swing of things.

A few days after my exhausting training I was slowly getting the hang of the job. I experienced some technical hiccups but they were solved by 2 guys who never seemed to leave the canteen. The trick was to jiggle the button on the coffee machine BEFORE I put my 20p in, that way it slopped out coffee AND a reused paper cup. Other tricks of the trade included: never use stall 3 in the toilets as it leaks foul-smelling brown squidgy stuff over your shoes when it flushes, don’t rock back on your chair because it was made from bamboo in Brazilian sweat-shop and will snap very easily, and most importantly you should let the automatic door open fully before walking through or it will shut and trap you like a human sausage between 2 panes of glass bread.

We also answer the phones. When there’s time.

The 3 Types

Two weeks later I discovered there were 3 types of people working for NHS Direct contact centre.

Type 1 are those who follow the 1-4 procedure. They come in roughly on time and do their work. Nothing more.

Type 2′s go above and beyond the call of duty and ask questions of their own, I’ve heard in extreme cases the operator instructing the caller just to visit your local doctor. The horror!

Type 3′s spend most of their time playing Angry Birds, World of Why Bother Craft, updating their status, surfing the net and reshuffling incoming calls to Type 2′s.

Comedy Classics.

Whilst mooching around in the admin files on my PC, I came across a document entitled “Comedy Classics”. This document was accessible by all call centre staff and had transcripts of the more unusual calls made to NHS Direct. I asked my supervisor, 350lb bearded “lady” Gertrude McSchitzpanz, why such material was kept, as surely it was gross misuse of confidential information. Something that certainly should not be hidden away but published on the internet for everyone to laugh at.

“You are noob!” McSchitzpanz bellowed at me. I wiped the bacon fat from my face. “Iz for training reasoningz. You vill learn much thingz about stoopid publicks who getz zer wieners caught in za vacuum cleanah nozzle or silly men who trip and fallz onto action figure in der rectumz. You must read and understant how it all verks! Read it. Do it NOW!”


Fearing a physical attack from McSchitzpanz who had fists larger than a bowling ball, I read through the document. It was funny stuff. Very funny. After a few minutes chuckling to myself and ignoring incoming calls, a crowd formed around my desk. The more seasoned call centre staff eagerly pointed out their own amusing call logs and showed me how to vote for my favourite one. The person with the most votes at the end of each month wins an UNstained cracked Tesco mug. In full view of at least 15 people I copied the file and emailed it myself where I could chortle in my own good time.

At the end of the working day I had taken 12 calls.

These consisted of 5 paper cut owie’s, 3 minor bruises – more owie’s, 2 job applications – one for the none-existent plumber vacancy and another for the Heli-Medic pilot vacancy (based on the 15 year olds assumption that he’d played Battlefield 3 enough to know “the basics of helicopter piloting, you douche!”) I also took a call from an anonymous guy looking for “Crazy Kev” and that it was about “the stuff” they’d talked about the other night down the boozer.

My last call was from a deranged lady who claimed she had died and wanted to know if she could get compensation for her stupidity.

I left my desk early to visit Tech-Support and get my keyboard fixed after spilling coffee all over it. I won’t go into the full story behind my accident other than it involved a relay race around the office, a fight with an escaped Howler Monkey and a wheelie-chair mop joust.

The Tech guy, Ivor Stikee, lived in what looked like a bedroom down in the basement.

He wasn’t happy to see me and refused to come out of his Poorly Parrot mascot suit. I left my keyboard among the junk spread in his office/bedroom and left before something could crawl up my leg.

The Comedy Classics Document!

At home I nuked a TV dinner and settled back to enjoy an evening of comedic reflection, a big contrast from my usual nights of chugging vodka, watching American Dad and scratching behind the sofa for elusive coins. This is a selection of transcripts taken by NHS Direct call centre operators.

Duck-Butt Bath Accident:

NHS Direct Operator: Hello caller. Wassup?

Caller: Yeah hi…um…I slipped in the bath and er…had an accident with the rubber duck.

NHS Direct Operator: Of course you did sir. How far inside your rectum is the duck?

Caller: Well if I bend over and look in the mirror I…think…I can see…(hold on)…the beak.

NHS Direct Operator: (laughter)

Caller: I asked my wife to pull it out but she left…took her suitcase with her…weird…her car’s gone too…

NHS Direct Operator: Do you own a cat?

Caller: Yes…why?

NHS Direct Operator: Spread a wodge of cat food around your butt hole, and the beak, and shove your butt in the cats face.

Caller: …seriously?

NHS Direct Operator: Yep.

[Cat sounds are heard – followed by screams]

Caller: ….um, the cat’s paw is…um…stuck…behind the beak…ouch…owieowieowieowie…

NHS Direct Operator: O-kay, best thing to do is visit your local medicine man/woman-in-a-cave/shaman/aboriginal ju-ju man.

Caller: My what…?

NHS Direct Operator: Have a nice day!

[Click – Brrrrrrrr]

Vacuum Cleaner Double Fun:

NHS Direct Operator: Hello caller. Who dis?

Caller: I’m Rick. I need some advice. Quickly.

NHS Direct Operator: Shoot.

Caller: My friend was vacuuming his floor and fell over and got himself stuck, you know, in the end bit, and…er….

NHS Direct Operator: He got his willy stuck in the vacuum nozzle?

Caller: When he fell. Yes.

NHS Direct Operator: And is your friend with you?

Caller: He is on the other end. [Yes, I’m asking her now. Stop fiddling with it.]

NHS Direct Operator: Of the nozzle?

Caller: Yes. I have one end and he has the other.

NHS Direct Operator: Why isn’t the other end attached to the vacuum cleaner?

Caller: Well, you see, cos my mate Petie couldn’t unstuck himself I figured I’d copy his accident and see if I could figure a way to get loose.

NHS Direct Operator: Uh-huh.

Caller: Then I got stuck too. We’re stuck. [Stop doing that Petie, it hurts.]

NHS Direct Operator: So you’re both sat there with your willy’s in either end of the vacuum nozzle?

Caller: In a nutshell. Yes.

NHS Direct Operator: Do you do this kind of thing often?

Caller: What do you mean?

NHS Direct Operator: Either of you have girl friends?

Caller: I don’t understand the question. [Ouch. Don’t pull on it Petie. Concentrate on your own.]

NHS Direct Operator: Okay guys. Lube up. Anything slippery. Work it in there. Stand apart and pull. Hard.

Caller: That’s it?

NHS Direct Operator: Yes. Lube up. Tug. And don’t do it again. Have a nice day!

[Click – Brrrrrrrr]

Short & Strange:

NHS Direct Operator: Yo! NHS Direct, how you doin?

Caller: Er…can I get two 12″ Hawaiian with anchovies and a side of curly chilli fries?

NHS Direct Operator: We have a special offer today, 2 for 1 and a free Belgian Waffle?

Caller: Er, yeah cool, okay.

NHS Direct Operator: Good call. Have a nice day.

The Big Guide to Surviving an NHS Direct Consultation!

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