NHS Direct has won its first contract outside the UK after securing a deal which will see its online health and symptom checkers used in Australia.

The troubled health information service, which is losing £1.5m a month, has recently endured a torrid period in which it has been forced to exit two of its contracts to run the 111 urgent care telephone service.

NHS Direct told HSJ the one-year contract with its counterpart Healthdirect Australia was worth a “six figure sum” but a more precise figure could not be supplied because discussions were on-going over similar deals elsewhere.

It is the first time an NHS service has been licenced to be used overseas in this way.

The one-year deal, which could be extended, means Healthdirect Australia is licenced to use NHS Direct’s system but the Australian provider will oversee provision.

It will also pay NHS Direct on the number of service users.

NHS Direct head of business development for digital and international services Bob Gann said discussions were on-going to licence the product in other jurisdictions including Scandinavia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

He said: “The health and symptom checkers are hugely popular with patients in England, with over 11 million recorded uses last year.

“Healthdirect [has] looked to utilise our experience to develop its own web-first approach.” 

Mr Gann said he did not think the provider’s recent domestic problems surrounding provision of the 111 service would impact on its ability to secure further international contracts.   

“Internationally there is a positive image of NHS Direct,” he said.

Mr Gann was unable to say where the organisation thought the bulk of its future revenues would come from and what proportion of income would be generated through the digital side of the business.

He said a business plan was in the process of being drawn up but he said England remained a priority.

He added: “I think it will take some time for the international business to reach scale so most of our business will be in England.”  

The news is a boost for the beleaguered provider which has suffered a variety of setbacks in recent months.

After winning nine contracts to provide NHS 111, it has been forced pull out two of the contracts to date and HSJ understands it is likely to exit the 111 market by the end of the year.

HSJ also revealed earlier this month that it is losing £1.5m a month. Sources said the director charged with leading its 111 work, then finance director Trevor Smith, resigned following disciplinary action being initiated.