The Department of Health has sent  letters to strategic health authorities to invite expressions of interest in piloting the NHS 111 service, which provides a single point of access for integrated care services.

The service, which is already live and being piloted in County Durham, Darlington, Nottingham City, Lincolnshire and Luton, uses the ambulance service and NHS Direct to handle calls from the public that need urgent, non-emergency care and to refer callers to other service providers if necessary.

Although the pilots are being evaluated over a one year period by Sheffield University – with the final evaluation findings being published in the spring – the DH is encouraging other sites to sign up now so that universal coverage can be achieved by April 2013.

The letter, sent by Miles Ayling, the director of service design at the DH, says the minimum requirements for a pilot are: the ability to dispatch an ambulance without delay; completion of a clinical assessment on the first call without the need for call back; ability to refer calls to other providers without the caller being re-triaged; and the ability to transfer clinical assessment data to other providers and book appointments where appropriate.

In addition, it says that each pilot will need to provide assurance on the clinical safety and governance of individual models, assurance on information requirements such as data protection and basic performance, cost, outcomes and experience data.

It adds: “So long as these criteria can be met, each pilot will be free to decide which operating model, clinical content and software they use to deliver 111.”

The DH is asking SHAs to work with local pathfinder consortia, primary care trusts and ambulance trusts to indentify new pilot sites that could be launched during 2011-12 and to provide the information by 28 January 2011.

It says that there is no limit to the amount of new pilots coming from each SHA and that an event will be held in February to provide more information about the pilot programme.