The government has extended the deadline for the roll out of NHS 111 by up to six months following pressure from unions and clinical commissioning groups.
In a letter to CCGs, department of health national director for improvement and efficiency Jim Easton announced CCGs will be able to apply for an extension to the original April 2013 deadline if they do not think they will be ready by the original go live date.
The move follows lobbying from a range of interested parties including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Ambulance Service Network, NHS Direct and some private sector organisations.
They are concerned that the roll out of the non-emergency phone number which will replace NHS Direct is being rushed through before the full evaluation of the pilot sites is complete.
In the letter Mr Easton said he and health secretary Andrew Lansley were still fully committed to delivery of the NHS 111 service but recognised an extension “may be necessary in some cases”.
He wrote: “That extension will be by application to an expert clinical panel, and should not delay roll-out in those areas that are ready to move ahead.
“It will however, help ensure that in those areas that need it, time can be taken fully to engage local clinicians and build delivery models for NHS 111 that have the support and endorsement of all local stakeholders.”
The clinical panel will publish the criteria that it will judge applications on shortly.
Contracts to provide the service have already been awarded in the North East, South East Coast, South West and much of South Central as well as some parts of the East of England. London is running a series of extended pilots and plans to go out to a full procurement after 2013.
NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said the delay was likely to extend the life of the 0845 service but the full implications would not become clear until it was known how many areas had been granted an extension.
“NHS Direct believes that the Department of Health’s decision to allow further time to plan and implement these national changes to the urgent and emergency care service is the right one. It will allow for greater clinical engagement and ensure that the service is the best it can be for patients.
“The decision to allow an extension means that the period of transition from the 0845 46 47 service to the new NHS 111 service is likely to be spread over the next 15 months, rather than over the next nine months.”
However, Unison national officer for NHS Direct Michael Walker said concerns remained the government was pushing ahead with the roll out before the publication of the pilots evaluation.
He added: “It has been left to the vagaries of the clinical commissioning groups and that’s a problem; we need a centrally made decision [to slow the process down] as soon as possible.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter, said: “The RCN has deep reservations about the move to NHS 111 not least because people calling the service will only speak to someone clinically qualified around a third of the time.
“We call for this process to be totally paused while the final evaluation report on NHS 111 is published and considered. We ask the Department of Health to publish this report as soon as possible.”