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Ambulance trust ends NHS 111 contracts after problems with call answering

Another NHS 111 provider has pulled out of its contract after admitting that it has struggled to meet call-answering targets.  

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) announced that it would stop providing services in Devon and Cornwall from next March, having already lost the contract in Somerset.

It said it had put ‘additional significant investment’ into the service, but the ‘operating model was not sustainable’.  

Local leaders have warned that this could ‘lead to complications’ for GPs.

This latest setback comes after the service had been hit by the withdrawal of the largest provider, NHS Direct, shortly after launch in 2013.

It has also faced huge criticism from GPs, with LMC leaders last week calling for its abolition, while a Pulse survey revealed that GPs believe three-quarters of referrals from the service are clinically inappropriate.

SWASFT said that it would continue to deliver NHS 111 services across Devon and Cornwall until the end of March 2016 and would ensure a smooth handover to the new service provider.

A statement said: ‘Whilst the trust has continued to provide high-quality clinical care, minimising referrals to 999 and A&E departments, it has not been possible to achieve the exacting performance measures in relation to call answering.’

The trust said the move follows SWSAFT’s loss of the NHS 111 contract in Somerset, which further ‘compounded this position’.

Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, interim GP medical secretary at Devon LMC, told Pulse: ‘Any destabilisation of NHS 111 services can lead to complications for GPs. The LMCs locally have been working closely with SWASFT in the way that 111 services are delivered and we will now need to have all those discussions again with another provider.’

In a joint statement sent to Pulse, NHS Kernow CCG, NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCG and NHS South Devon and Torbay CCG said: ‘The three CCGs have ample time to ensure a new, high-quality service will take over. The public will not be affected by this decision and we will do everything possible to ensure a seamless transfer of service.’

NHS 111 has been beset by problems since it was introduced, attracting ongoing criticism.

In July 2013 GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that ‘the implementation and planning of NHS 111 has been an abject failure.’