Health chiefs have begun fining the private firm Care UK for breaching targets of the 111 non-emergency health line in Wiltshire.

The 111 service has struggled to meet targets since it began operating from a call centre in Bristol in February 2013, in particular sending ambulances to patients with minor ailments.

The latest figures show the 111 service is sending more ambulances than its contract states. The contract says less than ten per cent of calls should result in an ambulance being despatched but in the past six months it has only achieved that rate twice and most of the time it has been 13 per cent.

Care UK also breached the target on referring callers to hospital emergency departments of under five per cent – the figure has been between seven and nine per cent.

It failed to meet the 98 per cent target of transferring callers to speak to a clinical advisor, with the average rate being 65 per cent.

The 111 service was originally run by private firm Harmoni but Care UK took over Harmoni and earlier this year began staff consultations to change shift patterns to meet peak demand, but a number of staff left.

Wiltshire Council’s Health Select Committee was given the latest performance figures at a meeting on Tuesday, when it was told it was unlikely staffing numbers would improve until August or September.

Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group director Jo Cullen said: “From May 2014 we can implement financial penalties for non-delivery against a number of key performance indicators, which we have started to do.”

She said the 111 service had seen unprecedented demand over the past three months and the call centre now received more than 50,000 calls a month, most of which were appropriately managed. Hospital emergency departments locally and nationally had also experienced an unseasonal spike in activity.

Councillor Bob Jones said the 111 service was not fit for purpose but vice-chairman Coun John Noeken said he visited Care UK’s call centre last month and was encouraged at how it was run.

An updated report will be given in November.