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GPC fears NHS 111 will raid out of hours budgets

GP leaders fear the Government will raid funding for out-of-hours provision to pay for its rollout of the NHS 111 service.

At a briefing following a GPC meeting yesterday, GPC negotiators said ‘it is not clear how NHS 111 will be paid for' and raised fears that the Government would hit GP out-of-hours funding to fund the service. They said early signs from NHS 111 pilots indicated that the service ‘costs more than existing provision' and said some pilot sites had experienced ‘operational issues'.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the GPC and a GP in Barnet, said:

‘A definite concerning theme is how NHS 111 will be paid for. It is not clear how this will be funded. It seems NHS 111 costs more money than existing provision, particularly when NHS Direct is in place. It looks like NHS 111 does not save money and our concern is that this money is going to come from the out-of-hours service. We are concerned they are going to take the out-of-hours money and use it to pay for NHS 111.'

‘We have concerns over the way some of the pilots are operating. In parts of the country GPs are very happy with the way the pilots are working but in other areas they are very unhappy and there have been operational issues.'

The news follows a Pulse investigation into NHS 111 pilots that showed one in three callers to the service are diverted back to their GP. The Department of Health plans to expand the 111 service across England by April 2013, and NHS documents reveal the next phase is likely to be in London.

Plans released by NHS London under the Freedom of Information Act show NHS Croydon, as part of the South West London cluster, has submitted a business plan to pilot the service.

Pilots have already been approved in NHS Hillingdon and the inner North West London cluster of NHS Kensington & Chelsea, NHS Hammersmith and Fulham and NHS Westminster. NHS North West is also rolling out the 111 number across the region.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said:

'There is no evidence that NHS 111 will cost more than existing services. Funding of NHS 111 will be determined at a local level.  However we expect clinical commissiong groups to review existing urgent care call handling provision to ensure that it provides best value for money, and look to provide NHS 111 as part of this.'

'We are piloting NHS 111 in order to flag and remedy any issues before rolling the service out nationally.'