Short-term contracts for the new NHS 111 urgent care number could pose a problem for NHS Direct’s bid for foundation trust status, HSJ has been told.

The service has just launched its five year business plan which reveals a “challenging” year ahead during which it must make savings of 10 per cent on its £146m turnover, begin a major shift in its business model and progress its foundation trust application.

NHS Direct was set up in 1999 to run the nationally commissioned 0845 telephone triage service. It is pinning its future on winning contracts to provide the new NHS 111 service, which will be commissioned locally by clinical commissioning groups.

NHS 111 is due to be rolled out nationally by April 2013 at which time the 0845 number will be scrapped and NHS Direct is hoping to have been authorised as a foundation trust.

Chief executive Nick Chapman accepted that making a bid for foundation trust status based on income from contracts not yet won would be difficult but said he was “confident” the organisation would succeed.

“We understand the principle of FTs needing to develop their future viability and we agree with that. In our case that’s dependent on the roll-out of 111. If NHS 111 was dealt out on short term contracts that would be a problem,” he told HSJ.

NHS Direct is running three out of the four existing NHS 111 pilots and talking to commissioners in “most local health communities”. In many places NHS Direct is working with ambulance trusts and GP out of hours providers to look at providing the service together.

NHS Direct is also focusing on developing more services for remote management of long term conditions and web based services, such as its health and symptom checkers. A mobile phone application launched at the beginning of June has been downloaded 230,000 times. Mr Chapman said that showed a demand for remote access to healthcare.

NHS Direct’s lead commissioner remains NHS East of England. The strategic health authority is due to pay it £114m if it meets its call target of 4.7 million.

The Department of Health had agreed to cover fixed costs for the next two years to ensure the organisation remains financially viable when its commissioner is dissolved. However, this may not be necessary now the deadline for SHAs to be abolished has been put back to 2013.