NHS Direct may not continue to deliver the NHS 111 service beyond the end of this financial year, it has emerged.
It further increases the uncertainty about future of the organisation.
As NHS 111 has now replaced the NHS Direct 0845 service in the vast majority of areas, with others due to follow, providing the new service constitutes the bulk of the organisation’s work. It means losing NHS 111 contracts could have a catastrophic effect on its future.
Asked by HSJ whether it planned to continue to provide NHS 111 services beyond the end of the current financial year, an NHS Direct spokeswoman said discussions “were ongoing” with commissioners including about “future delivery options past 2013-14”.
NHS Direct won contracts to deliver the new non-emergency phone number to about a third of the population, but following a disastrous launch it is still not handling all the calls which it is contracted to.
NHS England has previously said 111 contracts should be revoked if providers were not delivering.
In an email to staff, seen by Nursing Times, NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman warned staff there could be speculation about the future of its 111 services.
He added: “However, there is a clear commitment from the board of NHS Direct, NHS England and our local commissioners that these services will continue to be provided in a safe and stable way. Each of these bodies recognise the very valuable contribution that all staff involved are making.”
The email also revealed that NHS Direct’s plans to cancel redundancy offers it had made to staff, and potentially keep open up to nine call centres, have been shelved. That comes less than three weeks after the organisation proposed a possible reversal on the redundancies and closures.
Mr Chapman told staff the board had now decided it would not be “appropriate” to ask staff to stay on “in the circumstances that now prevail”.
The spokeswoman said this referred to the fact NHS Direct now had “clarity over staffing requirements” to meet immediate priorities “which are to provide a safe and stable 111 service at current volumes during 2013-14” and to provide the 0845 number as contingency.
HSJ understands NHS Direct was seeking significant additional funding from commissioners in the North West and the West Midlands but initial requests for it have been rejected. In Cornwall, another contract won by NHS Direct, the launch of the service was postponed until after the national 1 April deadline, and has now been delayed further until at least the autumn.
A spokeswoman for NHS Direct said discussions were still ongoing about funding with local commissioners, and with NHS England and the NHS Trust Development Authority “about future delivery plans”.