The hugely popular NHS Direct service is facing near extinction next year. Health secretary Andrew Lansley’s decision to replace the well-regarded national service with a piecemeal local service run by any English local provider could mean it will be running nothing by the end of next year.
So far despite providing some of the trials for new cheaper NHS 111 phone line in Luton,Nottingham and Lincolnshire, NHS Direct has failed to secure a single contract.
This dire news is contained in a confidential e-mail from Nick Chapman, chief executive of the doomed organisation, which is on the Exaro News website ( http://www.exaronews.com).
It shows with a third of the local areas already choosing their preferred provider for the service NHS Direct has secured the ” preferred provider ” status in just three areas, covering a mere four per cent of the population – Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Somerset and one other area. But even this guarantees nothing.
As Mr Chapman says: “No contracts have yet been signed and there is still a lot of work to be done to agree the final contracts before we start delivering the service.”
And where NHS Direct is putting through pilots, these will be up for grabs by anyone else, once the period is over.
So who is getting them? Despite publicity showing that three of the main for profit providers, Care UK, Capita and Serco have pulled out – this has left Harmoni grabbing the biggest share with Hillingdon, Croydon, Wandsworth, Suffolk, parts of Kent and Sussex and Wiltshire and parts of North Somerset, all now to be run for profit. And the promise of a six month delay may merely serve to persuade more private firms to move in – rather than defend the existing state provided service.
The rest has gone to various trusts and social enterprises ( some well run by GPs like in Devon, others not so well run) taking over. NHS Direct is being cautious -saying commercial confidentiality stops them revealing the full picture.
Should we care? According to the BMA we should.
As Dr Laurance Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “A potentially dangerous version of NHS 111 is set to burst forth upon an unsuspecting public from April. Patients may end up being sent to the wrong place, waiting longer, blocking A&E and using ambulances needlessly, when a little more consideration might make it all work properly.”
Of course ministers like Simon Burns say it is fine and good value for the taxpayer. But I wonder if the public will like it – particularly if it to be mainly staffed by people with just 90 days training – rather than nurses who might have a better knowledge of medical matters. One wonders whether like a recent call I made to Blackberry, the centre will be spending their time looking up articles on Google to provide the best advice . Very worrying if you are an anxious mother or have a sick child.
If it ain’t broke, why tear it apart.