The British Medical Association has called on the government to “relax” the timetable for the roll out of the new non-emergency telephone number amid fears it could “destabilise” existing GP out of hours providers.
In a letter to health secretary Andrew Lansley, Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee, warns of “serious unintended consequences” and risks to patient safety if the government sticks to the current deadline. Under the existing plans, a procured NHS 111 service will be up and running by April 2013.
The Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the Ambulance Service Network have already called for the procurement to be delayed to await the full evaluation of the service pilots.
Dr Buckman said: “More flexibility would allow clinical commissioners to get properly involved in how NHS 111 is being rolled out in their area, making sure it is sensitive to local need. GPs are happy to work with NHS 111 to iron out any problems, but they need time in order to do that.”
BMA members are also concerned clinical commissioning groups are being excluded from decisions about procurement of the service.
The North East, North West, South West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands are all tendering for the service on a regional basis. Primary care trusts in the East of England, South East Coast and South Central are tendering for it on a cluster basis.
Earlier this month NHS Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire PCT cluster warned their timetable for NHS 111 could slip after the DH published new technical guidance requiring operating systems to be compatible with the ‘NHS spine’ - the health service’s core record sharing system.
Director of the Ambulance Service Network Jo Webber told HSJ commissioners had not had time to “get their heads around” NHS 111.
“Let’s be very clear what the pilots are saying before we roll this out across the country otherwise we are going to find new bits of guidance coming out as the learning from the pilot sites becomes more established,” she said.
The new service will make GP out of hours providers and NHS Direct redundant and both are competing for contracts to run the service along with ambulance trusts. HSJ understands other private sector providers are also interested.
Xavier Flinois, chief executive of Clinical Solutions which provides software to four NHS 111 pilots, said the 2013 deadline was achievable if there was enough pragmatism. He told HSJ the bigger problem for smaller out of hours providers would be the scale needed to cope with the surges in demand an NHS 111 service would bring.