More than half of NHS Direct staff face being made redundant after a failure to reach agreement on their transfer to non-NHS providers of the new NHS 111 phone number.
The non-emergency telephone number is due to replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number from March next year. NHS Direct won more NHS 111 contracts than any other provider but will only be covering a third of the country.
Contracts in other areas have been won by a mixture of NHS ambulance trusts and independent sector GP out-of-hours providers.
Around 750 nurse adviser and call handler posts will be put at risk.
In an email sent to staff this morning, chief executive Nick Chapman said staff transfers to ambulance trusts, which had won 111 contracts, would go ahead.
But he said the “movement of staff to non-NHS providers (such as GP out-of-hours providers) have encountered legal problems relating to the protection of employment rights”.
He told staff that management had sought “a resolution of these problems with the Department of Health, but have not been able to find one”.
Mr Chapman added: “The position which I can now confirm is that the movement of staff in the areas won by non-NHS providers will proceed now on a volunteers-only basis.”
This means staff will lose their NHS pensions and other terms and conditions.
Unison national officer Michael Walker urged health secretary Jeremy Hunt to step in and “stop this disaster”.
He said: “Axing dedicated hard working nurses is never a good idea at any time, but this will directly impact on patient care and patients will suffer needlessly.”
NHS Direct estimated decommissioning costs for 0845 would be £144m in a worst case scenario, where all staff had to be made redundant.
The organisation’s board had hoped most of this would be avoided through the transfer of staff under Cabinet Office Guidelines, which protect terms and conditions.
Sandra Maxwell, Unison convenor at NHS Direct, said: “Hundreds of dedicated nursing and NHS professionals are now to be made redundant at a huge cost, when their skills could be used within the new NHS111 service, if only the Department of Health took some decisive action.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter, said: “For a while we have said that the plans to replace NHS Direct with 111 are a mistake and will result in nothing more than a pale shadow of what NHS Direct is.
“We have always been huge supporters of NHS Direct and believe it has matured into a highly effective service providing tried and tested quality advice.
“Everyone must be made aware that the government is effectively abolishing this vital service purely on a cost cutting basis. This is a foolish and ill conceived decision.”
A formal consultation with staff at risk of redundancy will begin on 3 December.