Nursing and health advisors at NHS Direct are to stage a “work in” today to protest against NHS 111.
Staff providing helpline services in Nottingham, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire are planning to stage the 24 hour action on the 64th anniversary of the NHS.
The area will become one of the first to implement the NHS 111 service, and plans to go-live at the start of August.
However, nurses and health advisors belonging to the Unison union say that it will deliver a worse service to patients, since far fewer calls will be taken by nurses and more by health advisors.
The union says that 75% of calls to NHS Direct are taken by a nurse, while just 17% of calls to NHS 111 will be. It also says this will lead to fewer clinical assessments being conducted over the phone, putting pressure on other services.
Unison further argues that NHS 111, which aims to direct patients to the most appropriate local service, will not be able to direct callers to emergency dental treatment, give out contraceptive advice, or help mental health patients in crisis, putting further pressure on ambulance, A&E and GP services.
This has been a persistent concern of doctors, with the BMA’s national Local Medical Committee’s conference calling for the roll-out to be halted.
Meanwhile, clinical commissioning groups have complained that the service is rolled out too fast for them to influence contracts. And some potential suppliers have indicated they will not bid for the work.
Against this background, the Department of Health recently announced that strategic health authorities would be able to apply for a six month delay in getting NHS 111 in place. The deadline is April 2013.
Despite this, health secretary Andrew Lansley, who unexpectedly announced the national roll-out after visiting a pilot site focused on making better use of the ambulance service, has remained a fan.
At this year’s NHS Confederation conference he said it was an example of the kind of service change that he wanted to see in the NHS, as it faced up to the financial challenge facing it over the next seven years.
Sandra Maxwell, unison NHS Direct nursing convenor, urged the DH to postpone the roll-out of the service until a national evaluation had been published.
“The ‘work-in’ by Unison nurses and health advisors is a visible sign of our real concern for patient care,” she said, adding that it would involve off-duty nurses coming into work in Nottingham to take calls in their own time and talk to the public.