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Government announces ‘rapid expansion’ of urgent care phone line

By Christian Duffin

The Government has announced it will rapidly expand the number of areas piloting the new 111 non-emergency telephone line, ahead of GP consortia taking control of the service.

The 111 phone service – which provides patients with a single phone number to access non-emergency care and will replace NHS Direct – is already being piloted in four regions: County Durham and Darlington, Nottingham City, Lincolnshire and Luton, but the Department of Health wants to expand this in England prior to universal coverage by 2013.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley revealed last month that GP consortia will be charged with commissioning local providers for the 111 service, offering the job to any NHS provider – including NHS Direct or private firms - under the controversial 'any willing provider' policy.

Before then, the Department of Health has asked SHAs to invite expressions of interest from any provider who believe they can lay on a 111 service, involving partners such as GP consortia, PCTs and out-of-hours providers to expand the pilots.

DH director of service design, commissioning and system management Miles Ayling, wrote: 'In response to growing interest within the NHS, the Secretary of State has asked that we rapidly expand the number and range of pilots, and that entry to the programme be as permissive as possible.

'We also want to allow new sites to join the programme as and when they are ready, rather than going in waves. This flexible approach should ensure steady growth leading up to universal coverage by April 2013 and allow some new schemes to join the programme with immediate effect.'

Mr Ayling said in his letter that applicants would need to meet seven criteria, which include an ability to dispatch an ambulance without delay, complete a clinical assessment on the first call without the need for a call back, and to transfer clinical assessment data to other providers and book appointments where appropriate.

He added: 'So long as these criteria can be met, each pilot will be free to decide which operating model, clinical content, and software they use to deliver 111.

'Following these initial expressions of interest, the department will host a one-day introductory event in February, where applicants will be able to learn more about the programme, establishment criteria and timetabling.'

Out-of-hours providers will be involved in the new pilots of 111

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