DORSET'S struggling NHS 111 service will be handed to a different provider due to problems with staffing levels.

South Western Ambulance Service has announced it will be withdrawing from its contract to provide urgent care services across the county, including 111.

It said it has struggled to maintain staffing levels and said it has no one to share the call queue or fall back on at the busiest times.

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) says the service will be handed back to the local health partnership, which is led by Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust (DHC).

No timescale has been given and it is not known how many jobs will be affected by the decision.

The service has come in for criticism including allegations that staff have fallen asleep at their desks and that staffing levels are too low at its call centre in St Leonards.

Last year it was revealed that staff turnover in 111 was running at a staggering 36 per cent with staff leaving because their jobs were not what they expected.

At the time, deputy director of HR Clare Melbourne said: "We absolutely recognise the increasing pressure that our staff are under and are working hard to address this and ensure our staff are supported."

A spokesman for SWASFT said: "Despite being given a Good CQC rating for NHS 111 in 2018, the service has struggled to maintain the staffing levels needed to operate this Dorset-based service alongside the 999 emergency services operated by SWASFT across the south west.

"In particular, resilience is an issue as, unlike many other providers of NHS 111, SWASFT does not have other call centres or 111 services to share the call queue or fall back to in times of extremis."

A timetable will be agreed over the next few months for the transfer of services and it is hoped that the service will be run by local staff in the local area.

The spokesman went on: "As a committed member of the Dorset local health partnership, SWASFT and DCH will work closely with all other members of the partnership to ensure we continue to provide a safe and reliable service for our patients and offer continued support to the staff in order to achieve the best outcomes for everyone involved .

"Discussions are still at an early stage as to how and when this change will happen and more details will be shared when appropriate. SWASFT staff currently working on the Dorset contract have been informed of this decision and will be guided and supported through the transition period with full HR advice and Union consultations, together with one-to-one meetings."