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Parents' fury at recorded message on VHI babyline

PARENTS of sick children were left frustrated when the full VHI medical care line was unavailable for babies, despite being paid-up members.

Private healthcare customers in Ireland were advised that the dedicated service -- NurseLine 24/7 -- was working at limited levels at some stages over the festive season.

The service is the first port of call for many parents who are concerned about their sick children.

The NurseLine 24/7 is a confidential telephone support service which is available to fully paid-up members.

The service is staffed by qualified nurses who supply information on a wide range of medical conditions and queries and is supposed to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

However, some customers experienced difficulties when a recorded message outlined that the full service was unavailable.

The message stated that advice for one of the most vulnerable groups -- children under two years of age -- was unavailable at the present time.

VHI representatives did not answer media queries on the matter when contacted.

It is unclear how long the advice service for those under two was unavailable for parents of child members who were concerned about their health.

Since its launch in 1999, NurseLine 24/7 has handled over half a million calls.

The VHI previously outlined that it remained unique in the Irish market as the "only medical helpline offered by a private health insurer that is located in Ireland".

"The NurseLine 24/7 team collectively has a wide range of medical experience not only in areas such as maternity and paediatrics, but also cardiac care, intensive care, occupational health, orthopaedics, theatre, and accident and emergency," it said.

The top health symptoms customers call about are high temperature, vomiting, rash, diarrhoea, coughs, abdominal pain, crying children and cold or flu symptoms.

The service was particularly popular with parents calling for free out-of-hours advice on a range of topics affecting child health, with queries on swine flu near the top of the list.

And it also offers a pregnancy and paediatric support line.

The service has now expanded to more than 20 nurses working shifts to look after the healthcare enquiries of over 80,000 callers annually

When the service first launched in 1999, a small number of staff handled some 250 calls per month.