Cookie policy notice

By continuing to use this site you agree to our cookies policy below:
Since 26 May 2011, the law now states that cookies on websites can ony be used with your specific consent. Cookies allow us to ensure that you enjoy the best browsing experience.

This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Climbdown over NHS Direct deadline

The Government has been forced to put back by two years its highly-publicised 2004 deadline for NHS Direct to act as the first point of contact for all out-of-hours calls.

In a humiliating indication that NHS Direct cannot cope with the workload, the Department of Health said the nurse-led helpline would not be ready to integrate with all GP out-of-hours providers until the end of 2006.

But all co-operatives will be expected to set up phone links with NHS Direct by the end of next year.

A three-year strategy document on NHS Direct, published last week, also revealed plans to fast-track any caller likely to need a face-to-face GP consultation for triage by a co-op or deputising service. Protocols will define symptoms that should trigger fast-tracking and the system is being piloted in Sheffield and Bedford.

The document said NHS Direct's capacity would double by 2005/6. The helpline will be expected to take on all low-priority 999 calls.

But co-ops said the service would need to quadruple in size to cope with all out-of-hours calls across England and Wales.

Funding will be devolved from Whitehall to PCTs from 2004, with trusts taking on a commissioning role and setting the pace of integration.

Dr Fay Wilson, medical director of Birmingham and District GP Emergency Rooms and a GP in Birmingham, said: 'NHS Direct is going to become more efficient by fast-tracking calls to GPs ­ are they fast-tracking some of the resources as well? How can it fail? When it does not meet the target it gets a new target and new funding?'

Dr David Lloyd, external relations director of west London co-op Harmoni and a GP in Harrow, Middlesex, said delaying the deadline for integration to 2006 was realistic.

He welcomed moves for closer joint working between NHS Direct and PCTs, but added: 'PCTs are paying for it but it's a national organisation, so there could be some tension.'

Dr Mark Davies told emergency care tsar Professor Sir George Alberti that successful integration of NHS Direct with GP co-ops hinges on call handling rather than nurse triage.

Sir George visited Yorkshire Pennine doctors on-call last week to find out GPs' experiences since it became the first co-op to integrate with NHS Direct four years ago.

Dr Davies, co-op medical director and a GP in Halifax, said NHS Direct dealt with half of all calls without involving GPs. He added: 'The vast majority of that 50 per cent are filtered out by call-handlers ­ people ringing for appointments or prescriptions.'

Call handling key to success, says first co-op in link-up

Government's

three-year strategy

for NHS Direct

 · Deadline for NHS Direct to act as first point of contact for all out-of-hours calls put back two years to 2006

 · Funding: £105 million in 2003/4, rising to £182 million in 2005/6

 · Capacity: to rise from six to 16 million calls a year by 2006

 · Protocols will set out symptoms likely to require face-to-face consultation; they

will be fast-tracked to out-of-hours GPs

 · PCTs to take on commissioning role and set pace of integration and local priorities

Rate this article 

Click to rate

  • 1 star out of 5
  • 2 stars out of 5
  • 3 stars out of 5
  • 4 stars out of 5
  • 5 stars out of 5

0 out of 5 stars

Have your say