Co-ops asked to bail out NHS Direct
The Government's emergency care tsar has confirmed that ministers are considering a significant reduction in the role NHS Direct plays in out-of-hours care.
Professor Sir George Alberti admitted the Government was actively considering passing some NHS
Direct calls straight to GPs at co-
operatives as part of plans to scale down the troubled nurse helpline.
The policy U-turn, exclusively revealed in Pulse last week, followed mounting evidence that the Government's pilot programme to integrate co-ops with NHS Direct is running into trouble (see map).
Passing calls direct from handlers to GPs was 'one of the possibilities being considered', Sir George said.
He said NHS Direct and GP co-ops could end up operating together in 'walk-in centre type places'.
'We are looking at the most appropriate ways of handling patients to bring together NHS Direct, ambulance calls and GP co-ops,' he added.
Shropshire Doctors on Call last month threatened to sever links with the helpline because the service had made inappropriate referrals and decisions that had led to double triage.
Dartford and Gravesham Doctors on Call cut all links with the service last year after protests from GPs and patients.
Dr Tim Ladbrooke, medical director of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster co-op and north central London NHS Direct, said they were looking at a priority system that would ensure calls about such conditions as abdominal and chest pain were passed straight to co-op GPs.
He said: 'It's a good idea that calls come down one phone line but you want to make sure the most appropriate person deals with the call.'
Michael Golding, general manager of Camden and Islington Doctors on Call, called on the Government to come clean on whether it had plans to expand NHS Direct's capacity. 'We would like to see some idea of when that would happen,' he said.
Health Minister David Lammy last week refused to unveil the Government's investment plans for NHS Direct.