The government has been accused of “vandalism” by destroying NHS Direct, which formally closed on 31 March.
The helpline was replaced by the NHS 111 service, but Labour claimed the new system was “fundamentally flawed” with a lack of medical knowledge.
NHS Direct originally had a contract to run 11 of the 46 NHS 111 services in England but in July last year announced it was planning to pull out due to severe financial problems.
It was announced in October last year that NHS Direct was to close and it was quietly shut down at the end of last month. A message on the organisation’s website said: “NHS Direct was decommissioned as of 31st March 2014.”
“Computers and call-centre staff have replaced nurses”
Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: “The destruction of NHS Direct − Labour’s trusted, national service − is one of the worst acts of vandalism by this government. It was broken up into 46 cut-price contracts − NHS Direct was left in deficit and forced to close.
“David Cameron’s NHS 111 service is fundamentally flawed. Computers and call-centre staff have replaced nurses and it has led to unsustainable pressure on A&E departments. Ministers must re-instate a national, nurse-led service providing reliable advice in all parts of the country.”
But a Conservative source responded by accusing Mr Reed of “hysteria” and claimed that NHS 111 was a Labour idea.
The source said: “‘Labour hysteria seems ill-judged given that replacing NHS Direct with NHS 111 was their idea and featured in all three party manifestos in 2010.
“What matters to patients is the security now offered by an improved and popular 111 service.”
“We were all proud to have worked for NHS Direct and the unique service we delivered to the public”
Unison told Nursing Times that the last 450 NHS Direct staff, inlcuding 250 nurses, were made redundant on 31 March along with the union’s nurse convenor Sandra Maxwell.
Ms Maxwell said: “We were all proud to have worked for NHS Direct and the unique service we delivered to the public.
“It is a credit to all staff that despite the reckless destruction of the service, staff remained professional, fully committed and morale remained high to the the bitter end,” she said.
Michael Walker, Unison national officer for NHS Direct, added: “NHS Direct when at its best was unassailable, its role during the pandemic flu epidemic was incalculable, every bank holiday NHS Direct took the strain when other services simply could not cope.”