Yesterday’s announcement that NHS Direct is seeking to pull out of its contracts to provide the 111 phone service has led to concerns about the provision of patient care across South East London.
NHS 111 was launched in April 2013. It offers a free one-stop phone service for patients with serious (but not life-threatening) symptoms who need urgent medical attention, but who are not deemed to require help from 999 emergency services. Trained advisers take calls, offer basic health advice and direct the caller to the most appropriate service for their needs, such as A&E or GP out-of-hours services.
NHS Direct initially won 11 of the 46 regional contracts for the service, covering 34% of the population, including South East London. However, it has already pulled out of two services, and yesterday claimed that the remaining nine are “financially unsustainable.” The organisation is now seeking a “managed transfer” of its 111 contracts, which have between two and five years left to run, to another provider. The details are yet to be finalised, and concerns are growing that some areas will be left without the service altogether.
“I am very concerned about how NHS Direct’s decision to pull out of their 111 phone service contract in South East London will affect patient care across my constituency. The NHS is already under great strain and going through a difficult transition, and the situation has become untenable.
Assurances that patients will continue to be prioritised are difficult to believe, and there is now a very real concern that members of my constituency requiring immediate medical care are going to be denied this help.
NHS 111 was supposed to alleviate the pressures placed on ambulance services and to offer an additional support system for patients. In reality, it now seems we are in a position where the future of the service is not certain, and ambulance services are not equipped to meet demand. My constituents need to know that there is a reliable and stable system in place and, at present, this is not the case.
The Government need to seriously review their approach if they want to save this service, which is failing badly. It must evaluate its competitive tendering process and prioritise cooperation with local services to ensure the provision of the best possible support in each area. If the Government cannot do this then they must abandon the service altogether and instead focus on investment in those health services that are working.
The issue here is people’s health and medical care, and these sorts of mistakes and oversights are unacceptable and inexcusable. It is the patients who end up being affected by bureaucratic and irresponsible decisions, and this cannot continue. We cannot run a health service based on a cycle of poorly-thought-out trial and error.”