Exeter hospital phones 'cannot understand Devon accent'

An Exeter hospital has insisted its automatic phone system can understand accents after a man said he believed it had problems with his Devon burr.

Brian Evans, 50, from Exeter, tried to use an automated switchboard at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

He told BBC News he spent 10 minutes being transferred between the wrong departments before hanging up.

The hospital said the phone technology could cope with a "wide spectrum" of accents.

Mr Evans said he had phoned the hospital because he had a really sore eye.

When asked by the automated switchboard which department he wanted, he said "eye infirmary".

He said the machine replied: "Sorry was that A&E? If not press cancel."

Mr Evans said he was then transferred to A&E before he had a chance to answer.

He was then put back to the switchboard and automatically transferred to various other wrong numbers.

Mr Evans said: "It went on for the next 10 minutes so I put the phone down."

He said: "I haven't got a real Devonshire accent, but I don't speak the Queen's English and the machine didn't understand me.

"If you want to speak about a train ticket or a bus ticket... you don't mind pressing one, two or three.

"But when it comes to your health you want to speak to a doctor, not a machine.

'Universal technology'

"My mother-in-law will just take a taxi up to the hospital rather than phone up because she can't get through to anybody."

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust said it was aware of Mr Evans' claim.

It said it had followed the lead of other major public and commercial sector organisations with the use of a voice recognition telephone service.

It added: "The RD&E greeting message does give the caller the option of talking to an operator.

"This technology has been universally adopted across the UK with its wide spectrum of accents and for communication with a range of different and complex specialities from hospitals to financial institutions."

It said it would continue to monitor and improve the service.

Mr Evans admitted that he did sometimes have problems being understood in other situations.

"I talk a bit quick sometimes, a bit of dialect, but I can get by."

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