NHS Direct is to be completely wound up by the end of the financial year and its remaining services dispersed to other providers, it has been announced.
More than 700 staff, including 156 nurses, will be put at risk of redundancy when a formal consultation period starts on Monday. Redundancy costs could potentially run to £15m.
The closure of the telephone and online health advice provider after 15 years marks the end of a process that began when former health secretary Andrew Lansley announced NHS Direct’s 0845 number would be replaced by NHS 111 in 2010.
NHS Direct won 11 NHS 111 contracts covering a third of the country but following a disastrous launch in April announced it was pulling out because the contracts were not financially sustainable.
The 469 staff involved in providing NHS 111, including 116 nurses, are expected to transfer to the ambulance trusts lined up to take on the 111 contracts on a temporary basis. At least 100 nurses have already been made redundant by NHS Direct over the past year as part of the move to NHS 111 which uses around half as many nurses as NHS Direct.
Chief executive Nick Chapman said they had “no option” but to wind up the organisation after realising they would be unable to balance the books.
“As a result we are now progressing with the NHs Trust Development Authority to the formal process of closing the trust,” he said.
“It’s sad that NHS Direct is coming to an end but the staff and capabilities are being dispersed into the NHS and will I am sure continue to be used for the benefits of patients.”
He said nurses facing redudancy would be offered training to help them refresh their practical skills.
NHS England is currently developing a new service specification for NHS 111 which is due by next spring.
NHS England director of operations Dame Barbara Hakin confirmed one of the things being considered was whether there needed to be more clinicians on the service.
Nursing Times understands the online services provided by NHS Direct, such as the health and symptom checkers, are likely to transfer to the Health and Social Care Information Centre along with the small team responsible for stepping up the National Flu Pandemic Service.
However, the complex health information and medicines enquiry service and the dental nurse assessment service are expected to wound up after NHS England indicated its intention not to recommission them.
The services, worth more than 12.5m a year, were a feature of NHS Direct’s 0845 service and were commissioned for the first year of NHS 111 during which they handled around 16,000 calls a month transferred from NHS 111.
Mr Chapman said it would not make a difference to the organisation’s future viability even if they were recommissioned.