26 Feb 2021

Tech problems, understaffing behind long Healthline wait times

From Checkpoint, 6:08 pm on 26 February 2021

A lack of staff and a series of technical problems plagued Healthline on Tuesday night, meaning about 60 people had to wait more than six hours on the phone, a review has found. 

Last night Aucklander Lisa-Marie told RNZ's Checkpoint she had to wait almost eight hours on the phone to Healthline on Tuesday night so she could find out if her kids could still leave the school.

She had for just six minutes visited Kmart in Botany on Saturday. On Tuesday, it was announced a Covid-19 infected person had worked a shift there at that time, so Lisa-Marie did the right thing and called the Healthline. 

Her call was not answered until about 5.40am the next day, and her phone showed a call time of seven hours, 44 minutes. 

Her experience elicited an apology last night from associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, who said it was not acceptable, and would be followed up. 

Now, after a review ordered by the minister, the ministry has told RNZ that although 36 people were rostered on to work, it is not clear if they were all working and there were just five staff in the Auckland contact centre.

They were dealing with huge call volumes - the Health Ministry says after the announcement of a new community case linked to Papatoetoe High School call volumes spiked - most of that day they had had average wait times of under a minute but that jumped to 36 minutes.

Healthline answered 3744 calls on Wednesday - most of which came between 7am and 11am and had an average wait time of 56 minutes.

The ministry said Healthline had since increased the number of staff they have rostered on by 8 times - and call wait times are now mainly under 20 minutes.

The review also found a series of technical issues. 

One problem resulted in 60 people's calls being incorrectly prioritised, meaning they had to remain on hold for more than six hours. The Ministry makes specific note that was likely to have been what happened to Lisa-Marie.

The ministry said this problem was "being addressed". 

Another problem caused 92 people between lunchtime Tuesday and midnight Thursday to be cut off after waiting on the phone for two hours. This affected people who were on hold or even mid conversation.

It is not clear what that issue was exactly, but it is said to have been resolved. 

The ministry said they would like to apologise to everyone affected, and said people should continue to call Healthline for information about Covid-19.