The DH announcement today comes after GP magazine revealed widespread concern among GPs about the service, fearing it will lead to an increase in workload and cut patient care.
A report on the NHS 111 pilots by researchers at Sheffield University found the service would increase GP visits, A&E attendance and ambulance call-outs.
In a letter to CCGs, the DH’s director for improvement and efficiency Jim Easton states the government’s ‘commitment to NHS 111’.
The letter reads: ‘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.
'That extension will be by application to an expert clinical panel, and should not delay roll-out in those areas that are ready to move ahead. It will however, 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.’
GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman welcomed the announcement. '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.'
Rick Stern, chief executive of the NHS Alliance, said: 'This extension acknowledges the importance of local decision-making, in response to requests from local CCG leaders. We also look forward to seeing the results of the full evaluation, which may include pointers on how CCGs can best implement NHS 111 in their local areas.'
The clinical panel is due to publish the criteria ‘shortly’ and CCGs are asked to submit an application via their SHA cluster responsible officer by 27 July.