Ambulance trusts are likely to team up with NHS Direct to compete against private providers for NHS 111 urgent care contracts, with representatives from both telling HSJ they have entered discussions.

Replying this month to a letter from the Commons health committee on the future of NHS Direct, health secretary Andrew Lansley reiterated his commitment to the “any willing provider” model for urgent care.

Ambulance Service Network director Jo Webber said: “If they [the government] have got for-profit sector providers coming into the market, this may be somewhere [NHS Direct and ambulance services] could work together to be more competitive.”

NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman told HSJ he had already held discussions with ambulance trusts about providing 111 services.

A spokesman for the Ambulance Chief Executives Group said all ambulance services were interested in running 111 as they already handled a lot of 999 calls that were not emergencies.

The new urgent care phone number has been piloted in the NHS County Durham and Darlington area by North East Ambulance Service Trust, with support from NHS Direct nurses, since August. NHS Direct also provides all the call handling for two pilots in Nottingham and Lincolnshire, both launched this month, and will have overall management of a third pilot in Luton.