'Slow down procurement for emergency phone line,' health department told

17 February 2012

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17 February 2012 | Adam Leach

By pushing ahead with the procurement process for the phone service that will replace NHS Direct before pilot results are assessed, the Department of Health (DH) is putting its effectiveness in jeopardy, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

The BMA said moves to renegotiate contracts with existing out-of-hours providers will put the new ‘NHS 111’ service at risk, because decisions will be taken before the findings of pilot studies have been analysed.

In a letter to health secretary Andrew Lansley, published today, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs’ committee, said: “We seek your assurance that the procurement of NHS 111 services will be slowed down, to allow for proper evaluation of the pilots; and that you will adopt a flexible deadline for full implementation of the service to ensure that fledgling clinical commission groups can play a full role in procurement decisions.”

The NHS 111 service is currently scheduled to replace the NHS Direct service in 2013. The scheme, which will allow operators to send ambulances to callers, is still being piloted in County Durham, Darlington, Luton and the East Midlands, however, tenders for contracts in the non-pilot area are already being carried out.

The BMA said that while the principle of the service was popular among GPs, there were a number of concerns over how it will change out-of-hours services. It recommended a “pause” be taken so GPs could work on solutions to their concerns.

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