The organisation which provides the 111 non-emergency health line in Bucks is pulling out of the service.
NHS Direct initially won 11 of the 46 regional contracts for the service, including Bucks, but now wants to withdraw from all them as it says they are ‘financially unsustainable’.
The NHS 111 line, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, has been riddled with controversy since its inception on April 1. The line suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.
In a statement Aylesbury Vale and Chilterns Clinical Commissioning Groups, which oversees the service, said it was now looking for a new provider.
“We are aware of the position regarding NHS Direct and are considering other providers who could operate this service for us in Buckinghamshire.
“111 in Buckinghamshire currently operates very well and we would not normally be looking for another provider at this point in time, but we understand the need to do this.
“We will therefore concentrate our efforts on identifying a suitable alternative provider and on ensuring a smooth transfer for the service.”
Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive said: “We will continue to provide a safe and reliable NHS 111 service to our patients until alternative arrangements can be made by commissioners.
“Whatever the outcome of the discussions on the future, patients will remain the central focus of our efforts, together with protecting our staff who work on NHS 111 to ensure that the service will continue to benefit from their skills and experience.”
NHS Direct said it will continue to provide a range of web, mobile and telephone services for patients which complement NHS 111 and support the NHS. These services are unaffected by the discussions currently taking place.
Earlier this month, the Health Select Committee criticised ministers for the ‘premature’ roll-out of the 111 service.
They said the service was implemented ‘without attempting to interpret the evidence from pilots, which themselves were limited in scale and scope’.
NHS England said it would support local health providers to ensure alternatives would be put in place.
A spokeswoman said people who call the line in the affected areas will ‘continue to receive a prompt and safe service’.
NHS England’s deputy chief executive Dame Barbara Hakin said: “Over 90% of NHS 111 calls are now answered in under a minute and patients are rating the service highly.
“Our immediate focus is to ensure that this level of service and improvement is delivered consistently. We are working closely with the Trust Development Authority and the board of NHS Direct to ensure that NHS Direct continues to provide a safe, high quality service to patients while alternative, long-term, providers are secured.”