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NHS Direct ‘work-in’ protest over 111

NHS Direct staff have taken part in a ‘work-in' to protest at plans to replace the service with the new NHS 111 helpline, as GP leaders warn of increasing workload after the change.

The campaigners in Exeter have been working unpaid this week to highlight the need for qualified staff on the emergency helpline. They claim that the move to NHS 111 will add to the number of people going to A&E and contacting out-of-hours services.

The action ran from midnight on Monday to midnight on Tuesday and was backed by the Unison union.

The staff worked unpaid throughout this period because they wanted to take part in a ‘positive action' that demonstrated the good work done by NHS Direct, a Unison spokeswoman said. 

NHS 111 is set to be rolled out nationally in April 2013, and will involve local commissioners appointing providers. The scheme is being piloted in regions across the country, including Derbyshire, Durham, Nottingham City and East Lancashire.

GP leaders in Devon have said the change to NHS 111 would increase workload on GP practices.

Dr Mark Selman, a GPC and LMC member in Devon, said: ‘There have been concerns in the pilots about increased shift of work to GP practices and A&E, even more so than NHS Direct.'

‘It is under-qualified staff following algorithms where the bottom line is GP or A&E, and they get down there a bit too quickly.'

Dr Selman added that the introduction of NHS 111 will destabilise GP co-operatives: ‘The initial triage would be handled by an outside agency, so a lot of GP co-operatives are not happy about the move to 111.'

‘In Devon, we have a GP-run co-operative that is successful. NHS 111 is being rolled out as a priority, regardless of whether it is needed or not.'

However, Dr Charlie Daniels, chair of Devon LMC, said the local success of the scheme ‘depends on who gets the contract'.

He added: ‘Our local providers of out of hours and the ambulance trust are getting together to make a bid. I'm not actually sure of the status, but if they provide the service, it will be good quality.'

NHS Direct has expressed concern about a reduction in quality. Joanne Shaw, chief executive of NHS Direct, told Pulse: ‘The contracts that are being put in place locally are at a significantly lower cost than the pilots being evaluated; hence actual services are likely to have reduced scope for clinical input and place further pressure on GPs, ambulance services and A&E departments.'

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