More than 1,400 NHS Direct staff have been notified they could be at risk of redundancy as the organisation looks to cut around a third of its full time posts.
Back office staff are expected to be hit hard while nurses and call handlers who stay on to deliver the new non-emergency NHS 111 phone number are being asked to take a pay cut.
NHS 111 will replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number from spring 2013. NHS Direct employs around 1,900 staff on a permanent basis. It has won NHS 111 contracts covering about a third of the country and needs about 850 full time equivalent staff to deliver this service.
However, not all of these staff will come from NHS Direct as the organisation will be required to accept some call handling staff from GP out-of-hours services which will lose this business.
NHS Direct estimates up to 300 more whole time equivalent posts could be saved to provide national services recently commissioned by the NHS Commissioning Board.
The board confirmed this week it will be commissioning dental and complex health information advice over the telephone and online services. The services are currently provided by NHS Direct as part of the 0845 service but were not included in the NHS 111 service specification.
The new slimmed down NHS Direct will operate out of 12 sites compared to 30 at the moment. A 90 day consultation with staff began on Monday.
Unison national officer for NHS Direct Michael Walker described the rollout of NHS 111 as an “unmitigated disaster”.
He added: “We are within months of the winding up of NHS Direct and still the government has no real idea about the eventual impact on jobs or patient care.”
The online service provided by NHS Direct will include health and symptom checkers and the option to request a call back from an NHS Direct nurse. Currently around 12 million people use NHS Direct’s online services, compared with fewer than five million who use the telephone service.
Many front line staff will have the option to transfer to NHS ambulance services in areas where the the services have won NHS 111 contracts. NHS Direct staff in areas where the contract has been won by a non-NHS provider can transfer voluntarily but will lose their employment protection.
NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said: “NHS Direct is committed to avoiding redundancies wherever possible by redeploying staff into suitable alternative employment providing the new NHS 111 service with NHS Direct or one of the other providers of the service, or into roles in the wider NHS.”
The approximately 50 whole time equivalent staff working on the appointments line are unaffected. NHS Direct will also continue to deliver the national pandemic flu service until the contract ends in April 2014.