NHS Direct has announced that it plans to cut its costs by £20m in the next financial year by improving call centre efficiency, making savings on IT and changing its staffing structure.

The cuts sit alongside a longer term plan to reduce management and business costs by 30%, saving £8m, by 31 March 2011.

The £8m savings agreed in February will be part of the £20m savings for this financial year, although an NHS Direct spokesperson told EHI Primary Care it was not possible to say how much as some plans are still out for consultation.

The health helpline said the £20m cuts could result in up to 25 management redundancies, although it envisaged that changes to front-line staff would be accommodated through natural turnover. The helpline employs nearly 3,400 staff of whom 1,350 are nurses.

NHS Direct said is has agreed a funding settlement for 2010-11 of £123.3m with NHS East of England, which commissions the service on behalf of the 10 English strategic health authorities. The helpline said the £20m saving represented 13% of its current turnover.

Its business plan states that the cuts are made against a background of significant pressure on resources, with £15 billion to £20 billion of efficiency savings required from the NHS by the end of 2013-14.

The business plan says NHS Direct has already reduced its core budget by 14% over the last three financial years but now plans a further £20.1m savings in 2010-11.

It adds: “We do not underestimate the scale of this challenge; but we see it as a positive one. We will meet it by ensuring that we focus our services very specifically on areas where we can provide greatest value, and not to seek to provide services that other providers are better placed to offer.”

Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive, said the savings would be returned to the health service to be spent on other patient services.

He added: “We plan to answer at least the same number of calls from the public, serve more patients on the web, and continue to focus on the quality and clinical effectiveness of the service.”

The helpline said it hoped improving call centre efficiency by enhancing call forecasting and rostering methods which it believed could save around £3.3m. It also plans to reduce staff sickness levels by implementing tighter management of long-term and short-term sickness.

NHS Direct said operational efficiency savings include improvements to the IT systems used by the trust and the renegotiation of IT contracts which it hoped could save £5m.

The helpline also plans to alter its nurse advisor staffing by increasing the number of dental nurses and increasing the number of band 5 nurses working with existing band 6 nurses.

Plans also involve the further development of web services. The helpline’s business plan says it currently handles around 5m calls a year and receives over 18m visits a year to its website. The average cost of a call is £13 while the cost of a web visit is 12p.