After 15 years, NHS Direct in England is to close at the end of March next year.
The announcement comes after the service pulled out of all its remaining contracts in July to provide the NHS 111 non-emergency service after they became "financially unsustainable". Commissioners have now identified alternative providers and NHS Direct’s 111 staff and call centres are due to transfer to five Ambulance Trusts by the end of November.
In the light of these transfers, the board of NHS Direct says it has reviewed its future "as a viable independent organisation" and, in agreement with the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England, has arrived at a decision to cease operations at the end of this financial year.
No patient services will be affected, "as we expect each of the services that NHS Direct is commissioned to provide beyond March 2014, will be transferred to other organisations, together with the staff who provide them". At a meeting on Monday (October 28), a formal consultation with staff will be launched and "it is hoped that the number of redundancies arising will be kept to a minimum through transfer and redeployment of staff to other organisations".
Chair of NHS Direct Joanne Shaw said the closure of NHS Direct "marks the end of its 15 years of continuous innovation, during which time it has led the world in remote health assessment, advice and information". She added that "I look forward to seeing other organisations take forward a number of the services developed by NHS Direct, and I wish them well as they exploit the ever-growing reach and power of technology, to provide value to patients and the NHS". It was noted that the move will not affect NHS Direct in Wales.
93% of England covered by 111
Meantime NHS England says that 111 is "stable and improving", noting that 93% of the population has a service. Some 94.1% of calls are answered within 60 seconds, 92% of callers say they are satisfied with the service - just 0.5% of calls are abandoned, it said.
Dame Barbara Hakin, deputy chief executive at NHS England, said "it is no secret that we had a tough start. But I have been impressed by the way that the staff providing these services across the country have turned the situation around".