NHS Direct has a contract with the NHS Commissioning Board to continue to provide its 0845 non-emergency telephone service as a ‘contingency’ across areas that cover 50 per cent of the population of England until mid-summer.
This contract can see NHS Direct step in where the launch of 111 services hit teething problems, and it has been reported that several newly-launched NHS 111 call centres operating in the north west were shut down last week, with an NHS Direct call centre taking over responsibility for the handling of out-of-hours calls.
Meanwhile, Birmingham GP out-of-hours co-op Badger was among providers asked to step in as new services, run by NHS Direct as one of its contracts to deliver permanent NHS 111 services across 34 per cent of the country, struggled to cope.
A spokeswoman for NHS Direct said that NHS 111 services were being ‘soft launched’ across large parts of the country where it was providing contingency services.
She said that NHS Direct has had to step in to provide cover for its own new 111 services in a number of cases.
The launch date for NHS 111 services was originally 1 April this year, but as this fell during the Easter weekend, the official launch date was brought forward to 21 March.
GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said NHS 111 should be delayed indefinitely until local organisations were ready to implement it.