GPs demand halt to NHS 111 roll-out

GP leaders have stepped up calls to halt the roll-out of NHS 111 after GP out-of-hours providers were forced to rescue struggling services in parts of England.

Introduction of the non-urgent NHS telephone service could be delayed until the end of June in half of England, with NHS Direct on standby to provide cover in many areas.

GP out-of-hours providers stepped in to provide cover in Manchester and Birmingham last week as NHS 111 call centres - including some run by NHS Direct - struggled to cope.

NHS Direct has a contract with NHS England (formerly the NHS Commissioning Board) to continue to provide its 0845 non-emergency service as a 'contingency' across areas that cover 50% of the population of England until mid-summer.

This contract can see NHS Direct step in where the launch of 111 services hits teething problems. Several NHS 111 call centres in north-west England were shut down last week, with an NHS Direct call centre taking over responsibility for calls.

NHS Direct also holds contracts to deliver permanent NHS 111 services across 34% of England. These were among those struggling as NHS 111 went live. Birmingham GP out-of-hours co-op Badger was among providers asked to step in.

A spokeswoman for NHS Direct said that NHS 111 was being 'soft launched' across large parts of the country where it was providing contingency services. She said NHS Direct had to provide cover for its own 111 services in some cases.

The GPC has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson calling for an end to the April roll-out.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said NHS 111 should be delayed indefinitely until local organisations were ready to implement it.

Lancashire and Cumbria LMCs chief executive Peter Higgins told GP that the DH should consider scrapping the roll-out of NHS 111. He said NHS 111 'fell over within 24 hours' in some areas, with up to 100 patients in telephone queues. 'We are concerned about patient safety,' he added.

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