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Future of NHS Direct becomes more uncertain


Nurses working for NHS Direct face yet more uncertainty as it emerged that their employer may not continue to deliver the new NHS 111 service beyond the end of next March.

The provider has also cancelled a planned reprieve of redundancies and call centre closures. 

Providing the new non-emergency phone line makes up the bulk of the NHS Direct’s business after 111 replaced its own 0845 service in April. As a result, losing the NHS 111 contracts could have a catastrophic effect on its future.

Asked by Nursing Times whether NHS Direct was planning to provide the 111 service beyond the end of the current financial year, a spokeswoman said discussions “were ongoing” with commissioners including about “future delivery options past 2013-14”.

The organisation won contracts to deliver the NHS 111 service to about a third of the population. But following a disastrous launch, NHS Direct is still not handling all the 111 calls it is contracted for.

NHS England has previously said 111 contracts, which are due to last for up to five years, should be revoked if providers were not delivering an adequate service.

In an email to staff – seen by Nursing Times – NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman warned staff there could be “speculation” about the future of the 111 services that it currently provides.

He added: “There is a clear commitment from the board of NHS Direct, NHS England and our local commissioners that these services will continue to be provided in a safe and stable way. Each of these bodies recognise the very valuable contribution that all staff involved are making.”

About 750 NHS Direct nurses and call handlers were put at risk of redundancy at the end of last year, but the provider then found it did not have sufficient staff when it went live with the 111 service.

At the end of last month, Nursing Times revealed that NHS Direct was planning to cancel the redundancy offers and was considering keeping open up to nine call centres to make up the shortfall. But Mr Chapman’s email revealed these plans had now been shelved.

Mr Chapman told staff the board had decided it would not be “appropriate” to ask staff, including many nurses, to stay on.

An NHS Direct spokeswoman said the organisation now had “clarity over staffing requirements to meet our immediate priorities”.


Readers' comments (64)

  • This is a total catastrof*ck!!!

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  • tory privatisation at its best

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  • NHS Direct did they really believe it would work.
    Basic that is the answer Basics.
    Doctors, nurses, carers, hospitals, porters,
    skilled professionals, hospital kitchens, hospital laundry, cleaners,students, operating theatres, stock room and staff,ambulances and staff,care in the community, love and support.
    Lets get back to the BASICS.

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  • nurses belong in direct patient care doing what they have been trained to do and not in call centres and not sitting in an office all day or at computers or filling in outsized mountains of paperwork! no wonder there is a lack of care and money being poured down the drain.

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  • Why does the "privitisation" word always come up?. Surely the NHS is already an organisation that subcontracts? GP's have a contract, 111 is a contract, so are many other organisations contracted to provide services to the NHS, free at point of delivery to the public.

    The key difference between the NHS and an insurance based system is it is free at point of contact i.e. you do not pay the service direct as you do in any other European health service.

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  • Anonymous | 18-May-2013 8:34 am
    sensible comment. there seems to be a lot of misconception about 'privatisation' and the NHS reforms.
    everybody who can afford it pays through income tax or up front. there is no model which offers free healthcare to all.

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  • Anonymous | 18-May-2013 8:34 am
    Anonymous | 18-May-2013 10:01 am

    It is fairly obvious to me that "privatisation" in the sense that it is used here means the process of transferring ownership of a public service or public property from the public sector (a government) to the private sector, to a business that operate for a profit.

    That is what is happening within the NHS. The misconception is all yours.

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  • Anonymous | 18-May-2013 10:28 am is right.
    also, whilst public services are being handed over to private firms, staff lose jobs, services are diminshed and (this is key) accountability becomes even more vague than it is at present. expect further assaults on pay and conditions and less money spent on patient care as profit is syphoned off into the pockets of shareholders. already happening.

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  • there seems to be a misconception among health service workers about how the labour market and the economy works.

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  • To Anonymous at 8:23
    NHSDirect will be sorely missed by the patients, they recieved first class assessments from the nurses and empowered to care for themselves at home. Most people want to do the right thing and not bother anyone unnecessarily.
    Already front line services, who were always sceptical of the service provided by NHSDirect, are feeling the impact of the demise of this service. Too late to save it now.
    Please don't demean the skills of NHSDirect nurses, you had to be there to understand the complexity of the job!! Try assessing someone with your eyes shut and you'll have a small insight into the skills required.

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