111 service in turmoil as key provider NHS Direct pulls out

Video report by ITV News science and medical editor Lawrence McGinty

The troubled NHS 111 service has been thrown into turmoil as one of the main providers announced it was planning to pull out of its contracts due to severe financial problems.

NHS Direct provides the non-emergency phone line in nine regions of England but has said that it is "seeking to withdraw from the contracts it entered into".

A spokeswoman said the contracts, which cover more than a third of the population of England, were "financially unsustainable".

According to NHS Direct:

  • The cost of the old NHS Direct system was more than £20 per call
  • The new 111 service was contracted by NHS Direc at a cost of between £7.00 and £8.50 per call
  • In reality the actual cost was around £13 per call

While officials have promised that patients who live in affected areas will "continue to receive a prompt and safe service", health unions warned that some parts of the service were "in chaos".

The NHS 111 line, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, has been riddled with controversy since its inception on April 1.

The line suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.

NHS Direct originally won 11 of the 46 contracts across England to provide the 111 service.

Earlier this month the organisation announced that it would be unable to provide the service in North Essex and Cornwall.

But now it is also planning to stop providing the service in Somerset, Buckinghamshire, east London and the City, south east London, Sutton and Merton, West Midlands, Lancashire and Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire.

NHS Direct announced that it was preparing for a "planned withdrawal" from the contracts after projecting a £26 million deficit for the coming financial year.