Clinical commissioning groups have been told not to agree any NHS 111 contracts to start before April 2015 while NHS England considers its options for the future of the service.

NHS England’s chief operating officer Dame Barbara Hakin has written to CCG leads to say the national commissioning board has decided that no other contracts for the urgent care telephone triage service should be re-procured to start before April 2015.

NHS England is reviewing the “optimum service specification” for NHS 111 and wants to maintain stability across the system until that is agreed.

“We are currently reviewing the national NHS 111 specification,” the letter says.

“This together with the need to learn the lessons from the initial procurement of NHS 111, the need to reflect the outcomes of the Urgent & Emergency review, and our desire to take on board the concerns we have heard from many CCG commissioners, has meant that we have concluded that we need more time to be sure that the next round of procurements fully deliver all we need to give patients the best service.”

EHI reported this month that ambulance trusts and GP out-of-hours providers will take over NHS 111 services from NHS Direct by the end of November.

NHS Direct announced in July that it was withdrawing from all of its 111 contracts as they were "financially unsustainable" and the provider is now in discussions with government agencies about its future.

The contracts with the new providers are in place until April 2015.

The letter says that most NHS 111 contracts finish on or after April 2015, but there are a few contracts that expire before this date.

“For these areas affected by this decision NHS England will support commissioners in ensuring there are appropriate contract extension arrangements in place,” it says.

“For the small number of procurements that have yet to be concluded we will support CCGs to ensure they are entered into for an appropriate time period.”

NHS 111 was due to take over from NHS Direct’s 0845 out of hours telephone service by April this year, however the roll-out has been plagued by delays and problems.

In March, EHI reported that the Manchester service went into "total meltdown" on its first night and earlier this year, the chair of the BMA’s GP Committee Dr Chaand Nagpaul described the implementation and planning of NHS 111 as an "abject failure".

Dame Barbara’s letter concludes: “I am confident that the additional time we take to review and consider our options will lead to the development of a strengthened service, which is more responsive to the needs of patients and the NHS as a whole.”