NHS Direct has announced that it will treble the number of staff covered by its home working pilot by March 2011, following the early success of the scheme.

The pilot has so far allowed 30 NHS Direct nurses in Milton Keynes and Plymouth to take calls from home. This will be increased to more than 100.

Since the pilot started in Plymouth in April, the time nurses are free to answer calls, the number of patients they have been able to speak to each hour, and the number of calls completed have all risen.

Nurses told an evaluation of the pilot that their travel time has been reduced, that there are fewer distractions at home and that they are much more aware of autonomy and accountability.

Jenny Carpenter, one of the pilot home workers, said: “You feel like you are clinician in a less than call environment. You feel like you are in a consultation room.”

The announcement of the expansion of the pilot was made at NHS Direct’s July board meeting, which was streamed live on its website for the first time.

Roger Rawlinson, director of HR for NHS Direct, said at the meeting: “Plymouth is top of the tree for call length outcomes over the past three months.

“Even with those caveats, the financial benefits are significant. The financial benefits from straight closing sites are not there but are from a) productivity benefits and b) reviewing the estate over time and reducing the number of seats needed.

“Moving to 100 people by the end of the financial year will give us the critical mass, better experience and enable is to move to more home workers in the future if that’s what we want to do.”

The board meeting followed NHS Direct’s annual general meeting, which was told that the service is still providing value for money. Figures were presented to show that 1.5m A&E appointments are saved each year by the service.

However, the board said it had had “a mixed year” in terms of meeting its key performance indicators, as it missed targets to answer 95% of all calls in 60 seconds and achieve 90% patient satisfaction.

Going forward, the service must make significant savings, with £20m to be cut in this financial year.