Parts of NHS Direct Online, the highly successful and popular web-based patient advice and information service, look set to be transferred to rival NHS Choices.
The planned move is not thought to impact NHS Direct’s core nurse-led national telephone advice service, which handles over 8 million calls a year.
NHS Choices, the patient information portal run by Dr Foster on behalf of the DH, is being heavily promoted by ministers as a single hub for patient information and health transactions. Developing the portal is seen as central to the success of the patient choice agenda.
This now appears to include taking over many of the online services currently provided by NHS Direct, together with forming much tighter links with other key patient transactional services including NHS Choose and Book and HealthSpace.
The shift of NHS Direct’s online services is being planned by the DH despite the clear success and popularity of the service among patients. In the nine months to February this year NHS Direct Online’s unique visitors have grown from 1.4m to 2.6m. Traffic to NHS Choices meanwhile is understood to have grown to approximately 2m.
In response to a parliamentary question last month, health minister Ben Bradshaw gave the figures showing NHS Direct’s traffic growth and confirmed it is to much more closely ‘integrated’ with NHS Choices.
The minister said: “Over the next year NHS Direct will be working with colleagues at NHS Choices to provide a more integrated health information service for the public. The aim is to not only make online delivery more efficient and effective for government, but also, more importantly, improve the public’s experience of health service provision via the internet, phone or television.”
NHS Direct board papers confirm that respective roles in relation to NHS Choices are being recast, and speak of a ‘core’ set of responsibilities being agreed with ministers. In the future the patient advice service intends to focus its efforts on developing services to support people with longer term conditions.
Asked whether NHS Direct would lose its online information services to NHS Choices, Ronnette Luecraft, commercial director at NHS Direct said the service “will continue to have a strong web presence”.
Luecraft added: “NHS Direct will continue to be a key partner to NHS Choices. We are working closely with the DH team to ensure the best solution for users.”