Patients to dial 111 for urgent NHS help

A NEW telephone service designed to make it easier to access urgent NHS care across the region will be launched in March.

NHS bosses have announced the contract for the 111 service, worth £132m over five years, has been awarded to the Yorkshire Ambulance Service and out-of-hours specialists Local Care Direct.

The project replacing NHS Direct is being driven by Ministers but is facing controversy amid complaints it is being introduced ahead of the national evaluation of pilot schemes testing it .

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Doctors have expressed fears over its safety and of extra pressure on 999 and A&E care, and there has been criticism nationally of a “shambolic” procurement process which has deterred bidders.

The project has also faced opposition in the region from some GPs who protested after being told they could not set up their own service instead of relying on region-wide provision.

Six bidders were asked to tender for the 111 contract, which also includes out-of-hours urgent treatment services in West Yorkshire and Craven, but only three did so.

Ambulance chief executive David Whiting said: “Our partnership of an ambulance service and out-of-hours provider creates a firm and experienced foundation for safe, effective and integrated patient care.”

But the award drew criticism from the Royal College of Nursing which claimed it would leave staff in Wakefield, Sheffield and Hull working for NHS Direct with an uncertain future as the 111 service requires fewer nurses.

RCN regional director Kevin Austerberry added: “The RCN has expressed deep reservations around some aspects of the new service; not least the fact that around a third of callers will not have the opportunity to speak to clinically-qualified staff.”

NHS officials said national rules for transferring frontline staff would be followed.

Mike Potts, who is leading the 111 programme in Yorkshire, added: “NHS 111 is being introduced to make it easier for people to get urgent healthcare advice and support.

“We can also assure callers to the new service that they will be clinically assessed on their first call and always able to speak to a nurse if they need to.”