£2m extra for health ‘out of hours’ care

HEALTH chiefs have been forced to deliver an emergency injection of cash into out-of-hours services for millions of people in Yorkshire after an unexpected surge in demand.

Managers have agreed to pump £2m into the West Yorkshire Urgent Care Service, which also covers Craven in North Yorkshire.

The service is provided as part of the region’s £25.5m NHS 111 contract. Patients needing out-of-hours care call the 111 helpline but higher numbers than expected have been passed on to the urgent care service.

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Demand has been as much as double that estimated in some parts, with extra pressure particularly at weekends, since NHS 111 was launched in March.

Figures based on the first 13 weeks show 62,000 cases had been passed on to the service by NHS 111 staff, against a plan of 35,000, with one latest estimate suggesting demand is expected to exceed the original forecast by between 40-66 per cent in 2013-14.

Extra demand varies from 19 per cent above that expected in some areas to as much as 100 per cent above.

Previously, calls to the now-defunct NHS Direct service were triaged by a GP before patients were referred for out-of-hours care. But no such assessments by GPs take place under the NHS 111 contract before calls are handed over to the out-of-hours service which is sub-contracted to Huddersfield-based social enterprise Local Care Direct.

Officials say they are looking at measures to reduce demand by containing more referrals within NHS 111.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service, which runs NHS 111 in the region, said the helpline was “performing well”. It had employed another 23 call handlers and 10 clinical advisors on a temporary basis since the contract began in March to deal with additional demand.

A spokesman for the Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group, which has overall charge of the NHS 111 contract, said commissioners across Yorkshire had given £2.5m in one-off extra funding to NHS 111, “predominantly to help manage extra demand in West Yorkshire”.