An ambulance trust has been asked to continue providing NHS 111 services with just 12 days’ notice after plans for a new provider to take over were delayed twice.

The 111 service in east Kent was originally meant to transfer to new provider Primecare in late September, along with GP out of hours services, as part of a new integrated urgent care service.

In July, the east Kent clinical commissioning groups asked South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust to continue providing 111 services until the end of October while out of hours services, previously run by IC24, transferred to Primecare. At that time the trust suggested it should continue to provide 111 for three months to allow more time for mobilisation but the CCGs said one month would be sufficient.

However, the trust has now been asked to continue providing all 111 services until 22 November, followed by a phased handover that will be complete on 10 January. Details of what the trust was being asked to do were only finalised on 20 October – 12 days before it was supposed to hand over the service. A report to the trust board suggests issues included connectivity, staff numbers, capacity to train and prepare staff, and overall service readiness. It also said Primecare had no previous experience in running 111 services.

The trust said it had no choice but to agree to the continuation because there were no other viable options presented to continue service provision. The additional unexpected demands on the trust’s 111 service is likely to lead to a lower percentage of calls being answered within 60 seconds. NHS England and the CCGs are supporting an investigation into the mobilisation problems and the impact on 111 provision across the region.

A spokesman for the east Kent CCGs said: “Launching any new service is a complex task. The east Kent integrated urgent care service was planned to go live over a number of stages. The east Kent CCGs are working closely with the new provider and are regularly reviewing progress. An extension to the timetable has been agreed to ensure a robust service is in place.

“The phased launch of the NHS 111 service will allow time for the service to move smoothly to transition. Additional expertise to support the east Kent CCGs is in place, providing support and further assurance to mobilise the change of providers. During this period of change, there will be no disruption for patients and, in the new year, patients across east Kent will start to feel the benefits of an integrated system.”

Primecare has been approached for comment.