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NHS Direct refers staff transfer row to DH

A row over the transfer of staff from NHS Direct to a new 111 service has been taken to the Department of Health.

NHS Direct has escalated a dispute with the North East Commissioners and North East Ambulance Trust to the DH and the NHS Commissioning Board, after the parties were unable to reach an agreement over transferring nursing advisers and call handlers to the new service at centres in Newcastle and Stockton.

The board meeting of NHS Direct last month was told by chief executive Nick Chapman that the matter had been referred upwards.

The paper said: ‘Discussions with the NE Commissioners and the North East Ambulance Trust have not concluded with any agreement to facilitate the transfer of front line staff. The lack of agreement has been escalated to the Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board.’

But it added: ‘Notwithstanding this it is hoped that some NHS Direct front line staff may be employed by the North East Ambulance staff in their new 111 service. The potential financial and redundancy impact has been reported formally to the DH.’

The move from NHS Direct to 111 will see a reduction from 23 to 16 nursing adviser roles, and additional changes to call handlers and supervisor’s positions.

There is already a pilot 111 service running in County Durham and Darlington.

The rollout of the service has been put back from October until December this year in South Tyneside, and April next year in North Tyneside. Both services will run side by side until next summer when 111 takes over.

It is estimated that it will cost £7.50 to handle a 111 call – half the cost of the current service.

Martin O’Neill, regional officer for the Royal College of Nursing, said the inability to agree on staff transfer was ‘very unsettling for staff’.

‘From our point of view it’s more about having the right staff, having the right advice for patients and making sure that they are getting high quality advice there,’ he added.

A spokesman for NHS County Durham and Darlington, which is commissioning the 111 service, said it had worked to get assurances that staff could take up roles in 111 on the same conditions.

A spokeswoman for the North East Ambulance Trust said no provision was made for the transfer of NHS Direct staff to NHS 111 when it was awarded the contract, but said it was working with commissioners and NHS Direct to resolve the issue.