NHS Direct has denied union claims that up to 500 nurses face being made redundant as a result of the switchover to NHS 111.
The first contract for the new non-emergency telephone number was awarded earlier this year in the North East.
Of the 45 nurses currently working for NHS Direct in the North East, there will only be 25.9 whole time equivalent posts in the new service. In addition 12 dental nurses will not transfer, as NHS 111 will not provide dental advice.
The union Unison claims this is a 50% reduction that if replicated across the country would lead to 500 nurses and dental nurses losing their jobs.
However, in a counter claim, a spokeswoman for NHS Direct said Unison’s figures did not add up. She said althouth NHS Direct employed a total of 45 nurses in the North East, the number of whole time equivalent posts in the region was 36.2, meaning the reduction in available hours for nurses was about 28%.
She told Nursing Times it was too early to speculate about redundancies because the majority of contracts had not yet been awarded, and NHS Direct could not predict its future workforce. She said nurses would remain employed by NHS Direct at least until April 2013 when the 0845 number was switched off.
NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said: ““The Department of Health has said that they do not expect any nurses to be made redundant with the introduction of the NHS 111 service.
“We are using an agreed formula to work out the numbers of front line staff to be transferred in specific areas, based on the size of the local population. In areas where the number of NHS Direct staff is greater than the number of staff the local NHS 111 service requires, staff who do not transfer will remain employed by NHS Direct.”
This week it was announced NHS Direct had been named as preferred provider to run the service in Cornwall and Somerset, although it lost out on five other contracts in the south west region.
Nursing Times understands it will also be involved in providing the service in two areas that have opted not to enter the procurement process at this time and rely on the Department of Health’s opt in service. One of these is the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough primary care trust cluster which includes health secretary Andrew Lansley’s constituency.
Unison, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have already called for a pause in the roll-out of NHS 111, warning that it will undermine standards and increase the already enormous pressure on hospital A&E units and GP practices.
Michael Walker, Unison national officer for NHS Direct, said: “Unison believes that cutting the number of qualified nurses and dental nurses providing clinical advice to patients will not only reduce the quality and scope of care available, but also increase the pressure on the already overstretched NHS.”