GP consortia will be responsible for commissioning the 111 non-emergency number service, health secretary Andrew Lansley has revealed.

In a letter to Stephen Dorrell, chair of Parliament’s Health Committee, the health secretary said an independent evaluation of the 111 pilots would be published in November 2011 and information made available to GP consortia “so they can make informed decisions about how NHS 111 should be commissioned and delivered in their area.”

The 111 service was launched by the coalition government in August when County Durham and Darlington became the first of three pilot sites to start using the number for non-emergency calls.

Two other sites, one in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and the other in Luton, are currently also testing use of the 111 number before the official launch of their services.

Lansley told Dorrell that Sheffield University will conduct an independent evaluation of the pilot sites and control sites and report in November 2011, assessing the success of the service itself and the impact on the wider health economy.

The health secretary sad the range of current pilots would also be expanded and a minimum dataset produced to ensure that accurate and consistent information was collected on the pilots and made available to GP consortia.

He said commissioners would also be free to determine the appropriate staff mix for NHS 111 call handling and there would not necessarily be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Lansley’s letter reveals that in the current NHS 111 pilot at County Durham and Darlington 38% of staff are trained nurses compared to 48% in NHS Direct’s 0845 4647 service.

In his letter Lansley also confirmed that while the launch of the 111 service would mean the end of the NHS Direct number it would not mean NHS Direct would be scrapped.

He added: “We do expect an ongoing role for NHS Direct, alongside other providers, in delivering the NHS 111 service, in line with an any willing provider approach.”

Lansley said the role of information sources such as NHS Choices and NHS Direct’s website, alongside the NHS 111 service, would be considered in the forthcoming information strategy.

He added that the current consultation on Liberating the NHS: An information revolution notes the need for a ‘channel strategy’ to provide a coherent view of the nationally-managed information channels.

Lansley said NHS 111 would differ from the NHS Direct helpline by providing a free to call service that would be more comprehensive and ensure patients were sign-posted to the service that was best able to meet their needs.

He added: “It will also deliver an improved telephone experience by booking appointments in the appropriate service and eliminating call-backs, wherever possible.”

He said the primary reasons for introducing the 111 service were to end confusion about where to go for urgent health needs and to support a more integrated and effective urgent care service.