UK
02/07/2013 19:56 BST

NHS Direct: 111 Non-Emergency Phone Line Contracts In Turmoil After Supplier Pulls Out

The new non-emergency NHS phone line has been thrown into turmoil after a supplier pulled out of two contracts for providing the service.

NHS Direct has said it will be unable to provide the phone line in two regions - despite winning the contracts to deliver service.

NHS Direct won 11 of the 46 contracts for the 111 service, but it said it cannot provide the service in North Essex and Cornwall because the contract terms were "financially unsustainable".

In a letter to local health bosses in the two regions, officials said that: "NHS Direct has no option but to exit from the contract.

"The reason for this is that since the launch of NHS Direct's other 111 services, we have established that the contract terms which NHS Direct had entered into are in fact, financially unsustainable."

The NHS 111 line, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, has been riddled with controversy since its inception on April 1.

The line suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.

Just a month after it's launch medics warned that the "problematic" roll out of the system left many patients not knowing where to turn.

Health officials launched an investigation into the advice line after a number of potentially serious incidents, including three deaths, were linked to the service.

Last week the British Medical Association called for an independent inquiry into the "disastrous" roll out of the service.

Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said: "In close discussions with Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and North Essex commissioners and NHS England, NHS Direct has concluded that it is not possible to mobilise these two NHS 111 services, and NHS Direct will exit from the contracts.

"The reason for this is that, since the launch of NHS Direct's other NHS 111 services, the Trust has established that the contract terms which NHS Direct had entered into are financially unsustainable."

NHS Direct's other nine contracts are already up and running, a spokeswoman said.

An NHS England spokesman said: "NHS Direct have written to commissioners in Cornwall and North Essex advising them that they are unable to initiate contracts for the NHS 111 service because they cannot be delivered for the resources within the contracts.

"NHS England is working with NHS TDA, commissioners and NHS Direct to identify a solution for these areas where NHS 111 has not yet gone live and NHS Direct was the provider.

"The 0845 4647 NHS Direct number remains in place in areas where NHS 111 is not yet live."