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NHS Direct failing to hit Government's out-of hours targets

NHS Direct is missing many key Government targets for out-of-hours calls, a report by the Commission for Health Improvement has found.

The CHI audit of clinical governance reviews at 20 of the nurse triage service's 24 UK sites found most were failing to hit the targets for answering and triaging calls.

Yet despite the failures, CHI praised NHS Direct as 'highly valued' by patients.

A patient survey by the commission found 90 per cent of callers were either 'completely satisfied' or 'satisfied to some extent' with its service. Most said advice they were given was 'helpful and reassuring'.

The report said: 'NHS Direct services are becoming increasingly popular and the volume of demand is growing.'

But CHI's findings were criticised by GPs and Which?, the Consumers Association magazine. It carried out its own research into public satisfaction with NHS Direct earlier this year.

Helen Parker, Which? editor, said the CHI report 'did not reflect the whole picture'.

She added: 'Few patients have the medical expertise to tell whether they have been given good medical advice. High satisfaction levels are more likely to relate to how friendly the staff were or how reassured the patient felt.'

The CHI report found most NHS Direct sites failed to answer 90 per cent of calls within 30 seconds and to triage 90 per cent of symptomatic calls within 20 minutes ­ key standards in the Department of Health's Carson report on the future of out-of-hours care.

Dr Steve Hugh, medical manager of GP co-op Shropdoc, said the CHI report was 'very superficial'. He added: 'They do not seem to have looked at the clinical work, they have just looked at patient satisfaction.'

Dr Mark Reynolds, chair of the National Association of GP Co-operatives, said the association wanted to see specific data on NHS Direct's performance where it is testing links with GP co-operatives.

He said co-ops wanted to keep their existing nurse triage systems when they integrate with NHS Direct.

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