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GPs to commission urgent care telephone line

By Ian Quinn

GPs will be charged with buying in replacement services for the soon to be scrapped NHS Direct helpline, with private firms to compete with NHS bodies to offer a competing versions of the new 111 number across England.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has revealed consortia will be able to offer the job to any NHS provider – including NHS Direct – or private firm under the controversial any willing provider policy.

In a letter to Stephen Dorrell MP, chair of the House of Commons health committee, Mr Lansley confirmed for the first time that GP consortia will have responsibility for commissioning the new service, including the ‘appropriate skill mix’ of the call handlers used by their chosen provider.

NHS Direct, local ambulance services and out-of-hours provider Harmoni have already thrown their hats into the ring to provide 111 services.

Pilots of the service have begun, with the first run by a local ambulance service in County Durham and Darlington, having a workforce comprised of 38% trained nurses, compared to 48% on NHS Direct’s 0845 line.

The Government’s decision to scrap the NHS Direct telephone hotline – which Pulse has uncovered cost the NHS £123m this year – has been welcomed by the majority of GPs.

But there have been claims from NHS Direct insiders that early results of the trial have seen a big increase in the number of patients set to hospital, with one claiming the rate had shot up from 3% to 11%.

GPs to commission urgent care telephone line