NHS 111 contract failures reveal 'worrying flaws in tendering process'

29 July 2013

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30 July 2013 | Will Green

The British Medical Association (BMA) has criticised management of the NHS 111 phone line contracts after NHS Direct announced it was pulling out of the service.

NHS Direct won 11 of the 46 contracts to supply the 111 phone service, which provides support for non-emergency health enquiries, but said yesterday they were “financially unsustainable” and would be transferred to other providers.

Chief executive Nick Chapman said: “We will continue to provide a safe and reliable NHS 111 service to our patients until alternative arrangements can be made by commissioners.”

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA GPs committee, said the development “revealed worrying flaws with the tendering process” and the government should review its tendering process.

NHS Direct's annual report - published this month - revealed the firm bid for the work on the calculation that each call would cost £7 to £8 – which resulted in them being awarded 11 contracts covering a third of England – even though a pilot showed the cost to be £13 per call.

The report said: “It is now clear that the trust is not able to provide the 111 service within this lower cost range, and that the 111 contracts that the trust has entered into are financially unsustainable.”

Head of corporate communications Lisa Potter said: “We went into the bid with a cost we believed we could deliver to, based on pilots and work we had done.

“What happened a launch was there were a number of factors we did not anticipate. Call lengths were longer. That has impacted on staffing levels. That continues to be a problem for us.”

Potter said the company was predicting a year-end deficit of £26 million due to the 111 contracts.

In a statement the Department of Health said: “There is widespread consensus ”” including among the leaders of the BMA ”” that NHS 111 is in principle a good idea. It makes obvious sense that for many patients, accessing the NHS by phone is often the quickest and easiest way to get advice and speak to a doctor or nurse when needed. So of course it's disappointing that there have been problems with its implementation. But these are flaws that can and will be overcome.”

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