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DH agrees six-month delay to NHS 111 rollout deadline

The Government has announced a delay in the rollout of the NHS 111 urgent care number, after accepting concerns that the looming April 2013 deadline for introducing the new 24/7 urgent care service was too tight for some CCGs.

In a letter to NHS colleagues, Jim Easton, national director for Improvement and Efficiency at the Department of Health, said CCGs wishing for an extension of up to six months would need to apply to an expert clinical panel by Friday 27 July.

It said the move ‘should not delay rollout in those areas that are ready to move ahead', but said it would ‘help ensure that in those areas that need it, time can be taken fully to engage local clinicians and build delivery models for NHS 111 that have the support and endorsement of all local stakeholders.'

The decision comes after pressure from the BMA to delay the rollout, with last month's LMCs conference raising 'serious concerns' that forcing CCGs to procure the service by April 2013 could compromise patient safety, and pile additional work on GPs.

NHS Direct, which is bidding to run the service in many areas, has also called for a delay to the rollout, as has private firm Capita – which last week urged the Government to delay to mitigate ‘significant risks' with the current tender process, after withdrawing from bidding to run the service.

The letter suggests the Government was eventually pressured into acting after feedback from CCGs themselves, in addition to other organisations.

The letter says: ‘The Secretary of State for Health and I are fully committed to the delivery of an integrated 24/7 urgent care service, accessed through NHS 111.'

‘However, after careful consideration, and having sought the views of senior CCG representatives and other stakeholders, we believe that an extension of up to six months of the original April 2013 deadline may be necessary in some cases.

It adds: ‘The clinical panel will publish the criteria that it will judge applications on shortly. If CCGs would like their areas to be considered for an extension, they should submit an application in writing to their SHA Cluster Senior Responsible Officer, who will then pass this onto the expert clinical panel by Friday 27 July 2012.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the GPC said: "The decision to delay implementation of NHS 111 by up to six months in areas where more developmental work is still needed is a welcome one. We have been pressing the Secretary of State to allow a delay for some time. The principle behind NHS 111 – making patient access to urgent NHS services easier – is a good one, unfortunately the speed of the rollout was putting this at risk.  Hopefully now there will be sufficient time to ensure local clinicians are properly involved so services can be designed that will be safe, reliable and genuinely benefit patients."