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Government facing NHS Direct backlash


The government is facing a backlash over plans to scrap medical helpline NHS Direct.

The Department of Health has disclosed that the service, providing advice to 27,000 people a day, is to be replaced by the new non-emergency number, 111.

Many of NHS Direct’s roles are to be taken over by the new phone line, which is currently being trialled in the North East.

But critics voiced concern that members of the public would no longer be able to speak to nurses with degrees but only call-handlers who have “passed a 60-hour medical course”.

The RCN said it would be “short-sighted” of ministers to axe expert nurses who had helped save the NHS more than £200 million by dispensing advice over the phone.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: “It would be short-sighted to cut back on the experts who deliver these long-term savings. We would be extremely concerned if the expertise it offers is indeed under threat.

“We urge the Government to consult fully and look at all the evidence before enacting changes which could leave people without expert advice from trained nurses.”

Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott moved to rally opposition to the move, attracting more than 3,200 signatures in less than 24 hours to an online petition at

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused health secretary Andrew Lansley of being on “a vindictive mission to break up the NHS, ruthlessly dismantling services before alternatives are in place”.

The Department of Health said “many” of the services offered by NHS Direct “may be subsumed” by the 111 service, which provides health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24-hour chemists.

Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said his organisation was working with the trial 111 areas and hoped his staff would play a role in it nationally.

“When detailed plans are made to roll out the service nationally, we hope NHS Direct staff will be able to contribute their experience to the new service,” he said.

He added: “The Government has announced their intention to eventually replace the current NHS Direct telephone number (0845 46 47) with the new 111 number.

“The more memorable number will clearly help patients find the new service more easily.

“NHS 111 is intended to work in an integrated way with local GPs, out-of-hours services, ambulance services and hospitals, for the benefit of patients and to help the NHS become more efficient.”


Readers' comments (7)

  • To be fair though, NHS Direct is pretty crap!

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  • I think as nurses commenting it is hard to assess NHS direct, I have never felt the need to call it, as I feel quite competent 'triaging' my own or my families health problems. I would have to rely on service reviews to judge.

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  • Anonymous | 1-Sep-2010 9:24 am, myself and a few others tried using the online version a while back now, putting in a variety of symptoms/illnesses from a mild headache to a full blown MI, (mostly they were minor ailments such as a cold) in EVERY case, the response was PANIC! DIAL 999!!!! Rubbish.

    These things will only ever work if manned by advanced clinical staff, able to diagnose on a variety of symptoms, and advise on the best place to go. It will never be perfect of course as we can never see the person, just go on what they are telling us, but it would be better than some teenage minimum wage telesales rep giving advice!

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  • If only I'd been directed to emergency services after 4 bouts of appendicitis - "advised" by NHS Direct to "take paracetamol and see your GP, its not an emergency" - all well and good, but over a Bank Hol weekend??! It turned out to be an emergency, resulting in surgery. A friend's son had what transpired to be a ruptured appendix and guess what, NHS Direct advice "see your GP, take paracetamol" The Surgeon laughed at me when I told him why I'd delayed seeking treatment, his response "you don't want to do that again" (with a wry smile on his face). I got the impression that the Medics view of NHS Direct was critical to say the least. Totally useless in my experience. Sadly nursing colleagues also think similarly.

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  • i used it once and all it told me was to go to my GP - knew that already, was just seeing if i could save some time by not trying to book appt

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  • Exactly Anonymous | 2-Sep-2010 11:06 am!!! In one respect that is why I think 111 will work much, much better. However it still needs to have qualified staff manning it. I think if these qualified and experienced staff can inform people of the wide range of Nursing services out there (that many will not know of), from walk in centres to specialist community Nurses, then it could be a very good thing. However like you said, walk in centres, especially being Nurse led, are a much better option and they should be expanded much more than they are now, in terms of availability, staff and services offered.

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  • I think NHSD in some respects do a very good job and other respects it needs improving, and I can say this with the experience of having actually worked for them.
    The way it was set up was very specific and rigid so the inherent risks of remote assessment were/are not designed to be addressed in a particularly refined way, despite feedback from the staff. The 111 service will be even less so, and is intended that way as well.

    The popularity of NHSD as a resource for the public has in a lot of ways been its downfall, as it hasn't been able to respond to that apporopriately, which is a shame. There are a lot of well qualified, skilled and caring staff who are not able to respond to callers in the way they would choose.

    Interestingly I see the GP's are now vying for control of the new service. So that would make them commissioners, providers and budget holders overall for a vast section of healthcare. Are they to be Lords of the Universe next?

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