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NHS 111 service launch delayed for more than half the country

Exclusive More than half the country will not meet the original deadline for rolling out the NHS 111 next week, with existing out-of-hours providers and NHS Direct providing emergency cover until the new service is ready to begin.

Pulse has learnt that 17 out of 47 regions - representing 53% of the population - will not be able to meet the original deadline for the rollout of the NHS 111 service, with some areas not even able to give a date when the new service will be up and running.

Eight areas applied for an extension to the 1 April deadline last summer, but since then many more have been forced to delay the rollout to enable them to iron out the remaining technical and staffing issues at the new service.

It comes after the GPC withdrew its support for the scheme following the chaos GPs encountered when the NHS 111 number was ‘soft launched’ in many regions last week.

Although in some areas patients will still be able to get through to an urgent care service by dialing 111, this will be to the original out-of-hours service or NHS Direct, rather than the new NHS 111 service.

In NHS West Midlands, Wayne Bartlett, NHS 111 regional project director, said the rollout had encountered ‘operational and technical issues’ and the SHA had to delay the launch past 1 April.

He said: ‘These include working in collaboration with NHS Direct who deliver the service, and with West Midlands Ambulance to ensure that the call handling is handled appropriately and safely at all times.

‘Additional call handlers are being brought in to underpin the service, and we are monitoring the call levels to ensure we have capacity to meet the demand.’

In the NHS North West, the full launch date has been delayed indefinitely. A spokesperson said:  ‘Commissioners are in the process of exploring the specific issues. It is not yet clear exactly how long it will take to fully resolve these issues.’

Dr Peter Holden, a GPC negotiator, said: ‘We told them two years ago that this was a nonsense time schedule. We always said that to launch this nationwide was chaos and it should be rolled out slowly.’

He added: ‘It would be foolish to [roll this out] in less than a few months. We’re not going to have CCGs blamed for failing to manage when they come with hands tied behind their back.

‘So far the story is appalling and we warned them this would happen, and we have yet to have the four day weekend.’

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said: ‘What is worrying is how little of the soft launch was needed to destabilise the whole national infrastructure – it couldn’t cope with the call transfers.

‘There was great care from the CCG to ensure that some call handling remained in the out-of-hours as a kind of safety net.’

Health Minister Lord Howe said: ‘NHS 111 will help patients access the whole of the NHS through just one simple number.

‘Over the coming months this new service will replace the existing NHS Direct telephone advice line. To ensure that patients get the best care and treatment, we are giving some areas more time to go live with NHS 111 while we carry out thorough testing to ensure that those services are reliable.

‘The NHS Direct 0845 4647 service will continue to be available to callers in areas where the NHS 111 service is in the process of being introduced.’

This story was updated on 04/04/2013

Areas where the launch has been delayed

Source: Information obtained by Pulse

RegionPopulation (Millions)% of English population
North of Tyne & Tees1,3242.6%
Cheshire & Merseyside2,4704.8%
Greater Manchester2,4604.8%
Cumbria & Lancashire1,9313.8%
North Essex9271.8%
Beds & Luton5761.1%
Cambs & Peterborough7381.4%
Leicestershire & Rutland9781.9%
West Midlands region5,33210.4%
SE London1,5153.0%
SE Coast region4,1758.2%
Banes & Wiltshire6321.2%
Bristol, N Somerset, S Gloucs8351.6%
Gloucs & Swindon8021.6%

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