NEWS

The chief executive of NHS 24, Scotland's answer to NHS Direct, has conceded that it could take some time to persuade all parts of the health service to embrace the new system.

Jim McIntyre, who is on a twoyear secondment from Scottish Enterprise to get the project going, said he was pleased with the welcome given to NHS 24 so far.

But he said that the organisation's key messages had not yet reached everyone: 'This is a new service, it is additional to what we have at the moment and we need to work in partnership with existing services.

'Partnership is not a glib word - we can't achieve anything without integration.

'We haven't got that message out to everyone by any means and We have got to work hard on that.'

Last week, Scottish health minister Susan Deacon announced that the first of three contact centres for NHS 24 would be in Aberdeen.

Announcements on two further contact centres are expected - for the west of Scotland, including Glasgow, and the south east including Edinburgh.

NHS 24 chiefs have explicitly said they have learned from the experiences of NHS Direct, which has faced criticism for being introduced too quickly without proper evaluation.

The Scottish project has taken much longer to get off the ground but has adopted a more consultative approach, involving GPs and other health professionals in a thorough overhaul of the computer software to make it more appropriate.

Nonetheless, the embryonic NHS 24 has faced criticism and concerns about its£30m cost.

One Sunday tabloid newspaper has criticised the service for using external consultants and for arranging 'away days' in hotels.

Mr McIntyre was sanguine about the criticism: 'I would much rather take the flak for paying consultants than take the flak for not planning NHS 24 properly.'

And he added: 'It is important to invest in access. In the context of a health budget of£5.5 to£6bn, spending£25-30m on access is very small.'

Last week's announcement was welcomed by the NHS Confederation in Scotland.

Director Hilary Robertson said:

'NHS 24 is a very welcome development.

'As the service develops, it will be interesting to see to what extent NHS 24 meets previously unmet needs, in addition to encouraging people to use services differently.'