The NHS 111 telephone helpline is in crisis after NHS Direct, which provides services across a large part of England has withdrawn its services from 11 of the 46 regional contracts for which it has responsibility.
NHS Direct claim that the service has become financially unsustainable for them to run after just four months. They were the previous providers of the service before it was broken up and the services were tendered out to private contractors.
It had been calculated that to run the service adequately, each call would cost £13.00. This would cover salaries and other expenses for employees however, when the contract was awarded the amount received was closer to £8 per call. This has led to the current crisis as NHS direct can no longer afford to run all of their centres. It is likely that these will now be awarded to private companies.
The service is aimed at patients who have urgent but not life threatening issues and was intended to be more efficient than overburdened A&E departments. In reality there are serious concerns about the quality of service provided and worries that staff are not adequately equipped to provide the appropriate standard of service.
This has led to medical groups releasing warnings about chaos and patients being put at risk. The BMA has called the implementation of the helpline an “abject failure” and worries that the “chaotic mess” of a system may put patient lives at risk.
The Department of Health are aware that the NHS Direct has struggled to meet the criteria set but maintain that most of the country has received a high standard of care. “It’s disappointing that there have been problems with its implementation, but these are flaws that can and will be overcome”
The BMA and Royal College of Nursing are worried that if urgent action is not taken to resolve the problems with the service, there may be potential tragic consequences for patients.