NHS Direct has abandoned plans to down-band frontline staff because it needs to retain people to run its NHS 111 service.
A memo to staff, seen by Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, also reveals up to nine NHS Direct call centres earmarked for closure could be kept open.
The decisions are a sign of how badly NHS Direct miscalculated the capacity it would need to provide the NHS 111 service in the North West and West Midlands, its two biggest 111 contracts.
NHS Direct is currently only handling about 30% of the NHS 111 calls which it should have under earlier plans, and is still providing its 0845 service in a number of areas under separate contingency arrangements.
NHS Direct had earlier planned to close 24 of its 30 call centres, and to reduce its pay bill by changing staff bandings. It had planned to move band 6 nurses to band 5 and band 3 call handlers to band two.
The memo said all staff will now retain their original banding “by right” so that NHS Direct could retain “the skills and expertise of our most experienced front line health advisors and nurses”.
The sites which could remain open are Stockton, Nantwich, Liverpool, Mansfield, Hull, Sheffield, Stafford, Bedford, and Ilford, although final decisions have not been made.
NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman admitted there had been “capacity shortfalls” when the service went live.
He said: “The length of the calls staff were dealing with and the proportion of calls referred to nurses was much higher than had been planned for. We have recognised we need to have more staff therefore it seemed to be a very sensible action [to reverse the downbanding] to try and retain staff.”
A review of why the launch of NHS 111 by NHS Direct went so badly has been commissioned by NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority and the non-executive members of the NHS Direct board.
Unison national officer for NHS Direct Michael Walker said: “The rescinding of the closure of so many NHS Direct centres just weeks before they were due to close, while welcomed by many staff, will be acutely difficult for those who have already sought jobs elsewhere or had planned their exit based on redundancy pay.”
The Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said he was pleased NHS Direct had agreed not to downband staff in order to “retain its skilled and experienced workforce”.
But he added: “News that NHS Direct will be remaining open to support NHS 111 highlights our serious patient safety concerns about NHS 111, and emphasises the need for a complete review of the service.
“Since the launch of NHS 111 a number of worrying problems have come to light which have not only compromised patient safety, but have piled pressure on already over-stretched emergency departments,” Mr Carter said.
“If NHS 111 is to continue without the support of NHS Direct it must be a nationally commissioned service which is led by properly trained nurses, rather than the current fragmented model which is damaging for patients, staff and the health service as a whole.”