• Clinical assessment service was due to launch on 1 April 
  • SECAmb and partners hope to launch later in year

The launch of an enhanced service across two counties has been delayed because of the coronavirus crisis.

The NHS 111 clinical assessment service covering Kent and Medway and Sussex was due to go live on 1 April but has now been delayed by several months.

The decision to postpone was prompted by increased demand for NHS 111 due to coronavirus-related calls and concerns that transition to the new model at the moment could be disruptive.

South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust already provides the NHS 111 service across the area and had partnered with social enterprise IC24 to win a tender for the enhanced NHS 111 and CAS service.

IC24 was expected to provide many of the additional healthcare professionals — doctors, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics — who would deliver the CAS 24/7 both on the phone and online. These staff would offer “hear and treat” services and issue prescriptions. NHS 111 staff are meant to be able to transfer patients needing clinical input to a CAS clinician, who will complete the call without needing to transfer patients to other services.

HSJ understands one of the concerns was around separate IT systems needing to work together, and the potential disruption during a time of intense pressure on NHS 111 if this transition was not smooth.

In a joint statement, SECAmb, IC24 and the clinical commissioning groups across the area, said: “We have taken the decision to pause the roll out of the new NHS 111 Clinical Assessment Service contract, which was due to launch on 1 April 2020, and to continue with the current service.

“We will be reviewing the situation in the weeks ahead and expect to launch the new service at a more appropriate time in the summer. In the meantime, the current service continues as normal.”

NHS 111 has been struggling to cope with the increasing numbers of coronavirus-related calls. In the week to 1 March, call volumes increased by 79,000 and more than 100,000 calls went unanswered.

NHS 111 services are already getting an extra £139,000 a week to pay staff to work overtime but an unspecified amount of money is also being made available to provide 500 extra call handlers. These will increase capacity by around 20,000 calls a day, according to NHS England.