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NHS Direct to close next March

NHS Direct has announced it is set to close next March, following its decision to withdraw from the provision of NHS 111 services around England.

The organisation announced earlier this year it was to withdraw from NHS 111 services, for which it was originally the biggest single provider, following a troubled rollout in the North West, West Midlands and London, which saw services being transferred back to out-of-hours providers. Pulse first reported there were doubts over its financial viability as a result of the failed rollout following a leaked copy of a report by the consultancy firm Deloitte.

Its 0845 number, which has been providing medical advice in areas where NHS 111 is not live, will cease in February 2014, by which point there will be interim providers of NHS 111 in all the areas affected by NHS Direct’s withdrawal.

In a statement, it said that its staff and call centres are set to transfer to ambulance trusts by the end of next month and it hopes ‘the number of redundancies arising will be kept to a minimum through transfer and redeployment of staff to other organisations.

NHS Direct chair Joanne Shaw, said: ‘The closure of NHS Direct marks the end of its 15 years of continuous innovation, during which time it has led the world in remote health assessment, advice and information.’

‘I look forward to seeing other organisations take forward a number of the services developed by NHS Direct, and I wish them well as they exploit the ever-growing reach and power of technology, to provide value to patients and the NHS.’

This comes at the same time that NHS England claimed that the NHS 111 service is ‘stable and improving’, and announced which providers have been chosen to step in to cover 111.

In the North West, the North West Ambulance Service Trust will cover 111, as previously announced, and the West Midlands will be covered by the West Midlands Ambulance Service Trust, with Harmoni providing the service for the Worcester area, and Staffordshire Doctors Urgent Care Ltd.

The South West Ambulance Service will provide the interim service in Somerset.

In the parts of London that are without a provider – East London and the City, South East London, Sutton and Merton – and Buckinghamshire, NHS England said it was ‘close to finalising arrangements… details will be announced soon’.

Data released by NHS England today show that 94.1% of calls were answered within 60 seconds, with only 0.5% of calls being abandoned.

It also said 93% of the population now has a NHS 111 service, with only Cambridge and Peterborough, North Essex, Bedfordshire and Luton and Cornwall not covered.  

Dame Barbara Hakin, deputy chief executive at NHS England, said: ‘NHS 111 is now a stable and improving service and we are confident it will continue to get better.  It is no secret that we had a tough start.

‘I am confident, and the public should be too, that these new providers of NHS 111 will be able to deliver a smooth transfer and a high quality, reliable 111 service.  The public should not feel any detrimental effects. NHS 111 is now going from strength to strength and we are determined to keep that improvement on track.’