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Exclusive: Delay to 111 go live in third of country

NHS Direct has been asked to provide a contingency service in almost a third of England due to delays in rolling out the government’s flagship 111 urgent care phone number, HSJ has learned.

The new non-emergency telephone number was due to have been rolled out across the country by today, replacing NHS Direct’s 0845 number, under a target set by the Department of Health.

However, NHS Direct has been asked to continue to provide the service in 17 areas, including West Midlands and South East Coast, due to concerns about readiness, HSJ understands.

In most of these areas, NHS 111 has been “soft launched”, so has begun receiving out of hours calls, but will not progress to full launch and take over calls to NHS Direct’s 0845 number until after Easter.

As of this morning about 30 per cent of the country in terms of population will be retaining the 0845 number although the situation is still changing.

The problems were revealed by HSJ asking the commissioners responsible for 111 services about their readiness.

Most commissioners facing delays told HSJ it was due to concern about introducing a new service so close to the four day Easter bank holiday weekend which is usually one of the busiest times of year for NHS out of hours and emergency services.

Most areas expect to launch fully by mid April. However, in Cornwall, where the contract was awarded to NHS Direct, full launch has been delayed until 23 May. A handful of other areas, including Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset and Gloucestershire and Swindon, where the service will be provided by Harmoni, were unable to confirm planned go live dates.

Earlier this month Royal United Hospital Bath asked other local healthcare providers to call it ahead of referring patients due to the “extreme pressure” put on it by the launch of NHS 111, while Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has also previously blamed the NHS Pathways call handling system for an increase in accident and emergency attendances.

The counties of Devon and Leicestershire and Rutland had previously been granted a three month extension to their introduction date.

The government has faced repeated calls to slow down the roll out after then health secretary Andrew Lansley announced in 2010 the service would be rolled out by 1 April 2013. As this date fell on Easter Monday the DH bought forward the launch date to March 21.

Health minister Earl Howe said: “To ensure that patients get the best care and treatment, we are giving some areas more time to go live with NHS 111 while we carry out thorough testing to ensure that those services are reliable. The NHS Direct 0845 4647 service will continue to be available to callers in areas where the NHS 111 service is in the process of being introduced.”

These are the areas where NHS Direct’s 0845 number will continue because the 111 service has not been fully launched:

Bath and North East Somerset & Wiltshire
Bedfordshire & Luton
Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough
Gloucestershire & Swindon
Milton Keynes
North Essex
North of Tyne & Tees
SE Coast
South Essex
West Midlands

Updated 22 March

Readers' comments (7)

  • Once again an idea thought up on the back of a fag packet! No one ever learns from the past when NHSD was set up the DH gave contracts to a myriad of providers who were unable to meet the demand in its local area. As time went on NHSD gradually became a single provider allowing for the use of one computer system and a telephony system that was able to move calls around to cope with demand. NHS 111 has gone back 15 years with a myriad of providers and telephony systems that are stand alone. The OOH providers could never meet their OOH telephony targets but bumbled on as commissioners never understood how OOH services worked. Now they have given contracts to OOH providers and think they will cope with the 111 volume of calls. Naivety at all levels!

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  • Another day another DH 111 fiasco! More testing being put back and back and done at the last minute, even sites being switched on during the actual testing pahse because no one informed relevant parties of delays!

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  • Also interesting to note that NHSD are being asked to retain its 0845 number , even in areas where it is meant to be running the 111 service - so failures across the board here.

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  • Au contraire this is a prime example of the results of competitive tendering for health services with the contracts going in large part either to commercial organisations or NHS Direct. They have performed as well as G4S did at the Olympics. However since this is only the NHS and problems can be easily covered up the Army has not been called in ahead of time and the woeful embarrassment of NHS111 is being allowed to continue in many areas.

    Several areas had their soft launches this week and almost immediately had a plug pulled - rightly- on patient safety grounds when they could not remotely approach local OOH provider performance.

    In other areas the DH and upper echelons of NHS management have put pressure on regional and local commissioners to deliver at all costs and pretend it is all nice and dandyl. A&Es, ambulance services, OOHs and above all patients are picking up the pieces. So much for Francis!

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  • Anonymous 21/03/13 8.33PM.
    OOH providers could never meet their telephony targets???? OOH providers have been given 111???!!
    2 comments that prove that whoever you are, you don't understand healthcare!
    OOH providers, at least the ones that I know which cover more than 30-40% of the population do not have a problem with their telephony. Quite to the contrary. In the North West and the Midlands, 111 was given to none other than NHSD, you know the ones with the sophisticated telephony and knowledge of activity levels. Why then were all OOH providers in those areas asked to take back their OOH calls for the next month at least? This was because the mighty NHSD, who only won it's contracts by pricing everyone else out of the market, COULD NOT COPE WITH THE EXPECTED DEMAND, on a Thursday evening, and DIDNT HAVE THE TELEPHONY OR STAFF TO SUPPORT THAT DEMAND!!!!
    In places where OOH providers have 111, which is only c30% of the country unfortunately, there have been far fewer teething problems as they understand the needs of patients calling in the OOH periods, something private providers/NHSD obviously do not!

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  • Shambles. In this so called era of Patient Choice - surely the resources should be invested in better A&E facilities. After all people are voting with their feet by utilising A&E compared to other alternatives. I remember an article by Mark Goldman (then CEO for Heart of England) arguing along similar lines.

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  • Harmoni were taken over by Care UK, the new home of 'Mr QIPP' aka Jim Easton. The galley slaves who toiled for 'efficiency savings' at Jim's behest will no doubt be happy to continue rowing for the next apparatchik on the make.

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