NHS Direct says it performed better in June than ever before, beating all the Department of Health’s targets on access, response times and clinical sorting, just as its new chief executive, Matt Tee, takes over the helm.

According to the organisation, it answered 467,000 calls in the month, and 98% of these within 60 seconds, overshooting the 95% goal set by the DH. Furthermore, 48% of the calls were completed without being passed on to another healthcare professional, comfortably beating the 38% target, and 29% were classed as emergency and urgent referrals, under the 32% aim.

“These figures show that we are providing an exceptional level of service to callers, enabling them to receive rapid and appropriate health advice at the end of a telephone, 24 hours a day,” said Dr Mike Sadler, Chief Operating Officer of the group.

Last month, the service came under fire from doctors and ambulance crews, who said they were struggling to cope with too many unnecessary referrals made to GPs and hospital A&E departments. But, at the time, NHS Direct argued that it was passing on 32% of calls to the emergency services, bang on the government target, and a spokeswoman told PharmaTimes UK News that year after year the service continues to reduce the number of calls it diverts to emergency care.

Health profiles ‘over-simplistic’

Then the service came in for more criticism when Dr Hamish Meldrum, newly-elected head of the British Medical Association, criticised the ‘health profiler’ section of its website for being “over-simplistic” while speaking on BBC Four's Today programme, according to media reports.

But, in a statement, Dr Sadler claimed: “The public has consistently demonstrated its appreciation of our service,” although he added: “We are looking to continually improve the way in which we meet the needs of all our users.” NHS Direct became an NHS Trust in April this year, and is looking to obtain Foundation Trust status in 2008.

New head

Meanwhile, this week also marks the arrival of NHS Direct’s new Chief Executive, Matt Tee, who has called upon commissioners and other providers to also publish their performance levels pitting them against the national standards, as a means of providing the public with an easier quality benchmark.