NHS 111 service on brink of collapse

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AN NHS helpline phone number trialled in Wigan is close to collapse after the provider threatened to pull out of its contract.

NHS Direct initially won 11 of the 46 regional contracts for the service, covering 34 per cent of the population.

It has already pulled out of two services, but now says the remaining nine are “financially unsustainable”.

The whole 111 service has been plagued with problems. NHS bosses have said there is no room for complacency.

The service is run by different organisations in each area, including private companies, ambulance trusts and NHS Direct - which ran the old telephone advice line.

Discussions are already taking place with other providers, particularly the ambulance trusts, to see who could take over from NHS Direct.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The majority of the country has a high quality NHS 111 service, but we know that NHS Direct has struggled to meet the standards required, and it is only right that NHS England take action to ensure patient safety is not compromised.”

The 111 service has been plagued with difficulties in recent months.

In March, NHS 111 was launched in Wigan but was withdrawn within days after a number of people were unable to get through and one elderly patient had to wait 90 minutes for a call back from NHS 111.

It was meant to go live in April, but ministers relaxed this deadline when it became clear many of the areas would not be ready.

By the start of May only half of the services, run by a variety of organisations including ambulance trusts, private companies and NHS Direct,were fully up-and-running.

According to GPs’ magazine Pulse, there have been 22 incidents classed as serious across all providers.