Patients seeking urgent medical advice faced delays and disruption as NHS 24’s new multi-million pound telecommunications system had to be abandoned only one hour after it was launched.
Managers at the medical advice helpline were so concerned about patient safety they told staff to bypass the £117 million system and use pens and paper instead.
The new platform for handling calls and patient information has already endured many delays after hitting problems at the testing stage and its procurement has been criticised by official auditors. 
Now it has emerged NHS 24 staff contacted the Scottish Government last month expressing concerns about how well it works.
The technology went live – more than two years later than originally planned – at 6pm on Wednesday on the 111 number which handles calls to GPs when surgeries are shut.
One member of staff, who did not wish to be identified, said: “Within minutes calls were not coming through, and it was backlogging. There was a nurse shouting because she could not get through on 999 (to transfer a call).”
The worker said there were occasions when patient callers appeared to vanish from the line and electronic information about their health problems failed to appear on screen. Around 200 patients were said to be affected. 
“All you could see was hands up everywhere,” the staff member continued. “There were not enough people to go to everyone. The coaches who have genuinely been trying to train us were upset. Call handlers and nurses were upset and we were all shell-shocked.”
After initially asking staff to use paper instead of the new technology, managers decided to revert to the old system. 
NHS 24 said the new programme had worked well during the day time when it was introduced on their non-urgent phone lines, such as the patient information service. It is also understood the technology was put through a rehearsal for out-of-hours medical calls and appeared robust.
In a statement, NHS 24 said the cause of the problem had been identified, adding: “We are aiming to have a solution in place and to have our new technology platform fully operational as soon as possible, but will only implement it when we are sure it is safe to do so.” 
The helpline is hoping to re-introduce the technology early next week.
Among some staff it appears there are concerns about the way the new system, known as the Future Programme, operates.
One email apparently sent to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month says of the programme: “It is confusing, it does not run smoothly, and does not make the job easy for us nurses and call handlers who are on the front (line) and have the privilege to look after the public.” 
The email urged Ms Sturgeon to visit NHS 24 and look at how the new system compared to the existing regime. 
The email said: “We are all for positive change and moving things forward but this is disastrous.”
A statement issued by NHS 24 said: “During the development of the new system there has been extensive engagement with staff on its design, as well as with patient groups and gathering patient feedback on what would improve NHS 24 services. 
“The core software in the programme is based on an industry-leading customer relationship management system which has been specifically adapted for NHS 24 and tailored to meet the specific health requirements of our patients and services.” 
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are aware of correspondence from an individual member of staff regarding the new NHS 24 IT system. The Scottish Government wrote to the individual on September 8 to respond to concerns raised about the workforce and the new IT system. 
“The Scottish Government is always concerned to hear of complaints from NHS staff and we ensure the local health board is aware of these concerns and provide us with a full response.”
Earlier this month an Audit Scotland report said NHS 24 had made the same mistakes as other public bodies when procuring a new IT system. The total cost of the Future Programme has risen 55 per cent to £117.4m, from an original estimate of £75.8m.