NHS Direct staff in the North East still do not know whether they will be transferred to the new NHS 111 service due to go live in 12 months.

The North East’s 111 contract – the first to be awarded – saw NHS Direct lose out to a partnership between North East Ambulance Service and out of hours provider Northern Doctors Urgent Care Ltd.

Differences between the two services mean NHS Direct staff are not covered by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) rules but
the Department of Health agreed in October that Cabinet Office guidelines that protect terms and conditions should apply.

However, by then, the North East’s procurement process was already well advanced. It had been advertised without reference to a requirement to take on staff.

In an email to staff seen by HSJ, NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said the new provider had “not accepted the transfer of nursing staff and first line managers” in line with the Cabinet Office guidelines, although it saw “no problem” transferring non-clinical health advisors.

“We have therefore asked the Department of Health to become directly involved,” he wrote.

Royal College of Nursing northern regional director Glenn Turp told HSJ the government had to take the “lion’s share” of the blame for a situation in part created by the rush to introduce the new system by the April 2013 deadline.

One private sector source involved with a number of other NHS 111 procurements predicted there would be similar problems elsewhere in the country as it had been difficult to get workforce data out of commissioners.

NHS Direct also lost out on the contract for the service in Norfolk, which was awarded to East of England Ambulance Service last month, and is not involved in providing the core NHS 111 service in any of the pilots being set up in London.  

Around 80 per cent of the NHS 111 contracts are expected to be awarded by July. At this point NHS Direct will decide whether to press ahead with its foundation trust application or consider another form, such as a social enterprise.