NHS England will fund an extension of NHS Direct’s 0845 number – despite the service being decomissioned from February – under NHS England’s plans to reduce the winter pressures on the health service.
Board papers released today detail that part of the £15m being devoted to NHS 111 this winter to help ease urgent care pressures will go towards an extension of the doomed 0845 service.
NHS Direct announced last month that it was to close next March, with its 0845 service – which provides telephone advice in areas where NHS 111 is not in full operation – set to close in February.
NHS 111 will be rolled out across the country by the time the 0845 service is decommissioned, with interim providers running the services in the areas where it is not currently live.
But NHS England said that it was funding ‘contingency measures’ including the extension of the 0845 4647 NHS Direct service in some areas to help cope with demand.
GP leaders said this was ‘another sign of the difficulties we have got following the debacle of 111’.
The papers, released in advance of the NHS England board meeting on Friday, said that NHS 111 ‘will play a very large part in helping to manage winter pressures’.
It added that £15m has been allocated to support NHS 111 through the winter period and NHS England has been working with the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SCAS) ‘to plan for additional capacity to handle the significant additional demand on NHS 111 services which is anticipated over the winter and Christmas periods’.
The ambulance trust will provide ‘additional contingency support for over an additional 9,000 calls per week from 27 November 2013’.
On the £15m being given to NHS 111, the board paper stated: ‘The additional money will also be used to provide a suite of other NHS 111 contingency measures such as the extension of the 0845 4647 NHS Direct service in some areas, and funding for commissioners to improve the quality of their local Directories of Service.’
‘NHS England and SCAS agree that these measures represent the best option to balance risk and available capacity in the system to ensure the service remains a robust access point to urgent care throughout winter.’
But GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the extension of funding to a decommissioned service was ‘another sign of the difficulties we have got following the debacle of 111’.
He added: ‘It is odd that at a time when practices are being asked to move away from 0844 numbers that NHS England is investing more in the NHS Direct 0845 number.’
Dr Vautrey said that the 0845 service had been working ‘reasonably well’ before the Government brought in NHS 111: ‘It is yet another example that the concerns that we were raising about the system moving too fast in an ill-prepared way and decommissioning a service that was working reasonably well before the new service was robust enough to cope with that.’