NHS Direct has warned it could face unnecessary redundancy costs if new NHS 111 providers refuse to follow Department of Health orders to protect staff terms and conditions.

The non-emergency telephone number is due to replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number from March next year. The DH has ordered NHS 111 providers to take on NHS Direct staff under Cabinet Office guidelines, protecting their existing pay, terms and conditions.

However, North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust and Northern Doctors Urgent, which won the contract to provide the service across the north east, have refused to apply the guidelines to NHS Direct staff in the region.

Instead the affected nurses and call advisors have been asked to volunteer to transfer over, meaning they will lose any length of service benefits accrued.  

In Derbyshire, where NHS Direct’s 0845 number was switched off earlier this month, staff have been seconded to 111 provider Derbyshire Health United Ltd on a temporary basis while a decision is reached on the application of the guidelines in consultation with the DH.

However, in Norwich 14 staff have transferred to East of England Ambulance Service in line with the Cabinet Office’s guidelines.

NHS Direct’s board meeting last Wednesday heard there were two new “amber” risks on the risk register relating to the additional redundancy costs involved if providers refused to comply with the guidelines and the DH failed to enforce them. NHS Direct has identified decommissioning costs of up to £144m in the worst case scenario where no staff transferred and all had to be made redundant.

At the meeting NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said the situation in the North East was “of concern” but his organisation was now getting “significantly greater senior engagement” with the problem from the DH.

Human resources director Roger Rawlinson told the board staff had been “messed around”.

He said: “I would like to convey to the board our utter exasperation [with the situation].”

The meeting also heard the DH had agreed to underwrite NHS Direct’s costs for three months beyond the 21 March national go live date for NHS 111 to allow time for a consultation period with remaining staff.

In a statement following the meeting Mr Chapman said NHS Direct was “confident” decommissioning costs would be “substantially lower” than £144m.

Roster changes leave NHS Direct facing employment tribunals

NHS Direct is facing “a number of” employment tribunals following a major reorganisation of working patterns.

The telephone triage services carried out a workforce review last year and implemented changes between January and August 2012 in order to increase staffing at evenings and weekends and become more competitive in the battle for NHS 111 contracts.

However, the review was challenged by the Royal College of Nursing under the Equalities Act on the grounds the changes discriminated against staff with disabilities or carer responsibilities.

Almost 300 of the approximately 2,300 strong frontline workforce applied for a variation to the new roster option they had been allotted on the grounds they had a disability or caring responsibilities. Of these 79 were approved, 136 were rejected, 50 staff left or withdrew their application while a number of cases are still outstanding.

A report to the board said a number of claims had been lodged with employment tribunal service and were being assessed by NHS Direct’s lawyers.