NHS Direct has been selected as the preferred provider of the NHS 111 service in nine areas of the country, covering more than 30% of England’s population.

The announcement marks a significant shift towards NHS Direct as a favoured supplier of the urgent care telephone number service.

As of mid-July, the organisation had been chosen as preferred provider in three areas, covering just 3.8% of the population.

However, NHS Direct has recently been awarded preferred provider status by commissioners in four of the larger NHS 111 contracts in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester; Cheshire and Mersey and Cumbria and Lancashire.

It has also been selected to provide the service in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Somerset, North Essex, Sutton and Merton and South East London.

And it is working in partnership in South East London with GP out-of-hour providers Bromley Healthcare and Grabadoc.

NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said the organisation is “looking forward to working with those commissioners and local NHS organisations to provide the NHS 111 service for their patients.”

“The national coverage provided by NHS Direct’s 0845 4647 service will no longer be required when NHS 111 is rolled out across the country, and the future NHS Direct will be focused on meeting the needs of the local commissioners and their communities,” he added.

In areas where NHS Direct has not been chosen to provide the NHS 111 service, frontline staff with ongoing roles are due to transfer to the new NHS 111 provider. Chapman said this will ensure the retention of NHS Direct’s experienced front line staff.

NHS Direct has competitively bid for NHS 111 contracts alongside other potential providers including ambulance services and GP out-of-hours services.

There are a number of contracts awards yet to be announced, with the majority due to be awarded by mid-September.