GPs, patients and relatives were unable to contact staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital after the main switchboard was cut off for more than four hours.
No incoming calls could be received by reception staff on Tuesday, who usually handle hundreds of calls a day, from about 10.30am and 2.30pm.
Barry and Susan Cope, who live in Kings Heath, were among those trying to contact the hospital after their 14-year-old daughter, diagnosed with a rare spinal condition call chiari, collapsed in the bathroom.
Chiari is a condition where the brain is lower than usual, with the cerebellum pressing on the spinal cord. This causes sacks of liquid to build up, putting pressure on various points in the spine, which can result in paralysis.
After going to see their GP, at Wake Green Surgery, in Moseley, it was agreed she needed to see medics at the children’s hospital for further assessment.
Mrs Cope, a company administrator, said: “This was her second collapse in the past 10 days, so Dr Baird tried to get through to the hospital to refer her, but he kept getting an engaged tone. I remember him saying ‘It’s ridiculous, the hospital’s engaged.’ I kept trying when we got home every five minutes, but to no avail, that’s when my husband checked with BT to see if there was a problem and he was told there was a billing problem on the hospital’s line.”
Last night a spokesman for Birmingham Children’s Hospital confirmed there was no contingency for when the switchboard is engaged – either through sheer volume of calls or a faulty or blocked line.
Gill Baker, the trust’s associate director of information management and technology, said : “Incoming phone calls via BT lines were affected by a fault for several hours but outgoing calls, the NHS’s own phone system, mobile calls, and e-mail operated normally.
“We never turn a child away. Any child turning up as an emergency or from their GP as a referral without prior notice is treated in exactly the same way as any other.
“Emergencies regularly turn up without warning when driven here by parents, and that is never a problem.”