Anger at health service changes

NURSING officials have claimed that an online health helpline will become a “pale shadow” of itself.

Campaigners from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) hit out after reports that an NHS Direct site at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton could close.

It is claimed to be one of two in the region which could be closed down in 2013, and replaced with inferior call centres, according to the RCN.

Glenn Turp, RCN Northern Region’s regional director, said: “This is a completely misguided, ill conceived plan, that is wrecking another excellent NHS service.

“It’s not simply a change of phone number, the new service from 111 is significantly inferior. The reality is that we are going to see pressure increase on ambulances, A&E wards and GP surgeries, as the nurse-led self care and telephone advice service is effectively lost. The public were not consulted on this plan either, and I am pretty sure if they had been consulted, they would have said no.”

An NHS Direct spokeswoman said the company had been bidding for contracts across England to provide the NHS 111 service, which is used when a patient needs medical help but it is not a 999 emergency.

The organisation has been awarded contracts to provide the NHS 111 services for 34 per cent of the population in England.

She said the 111 service will be delivered from six of its 30 call centres.

“This does not necessarily mean we will be closing the other sites,” she said.

The organisation is waiting for some decisions by the NHS Commissioning Board before the future of the other centres will be decided, she added.

Every year, NHS Direct answers 4.2 million calls for health advice and information for patients in England. Healthcare professionals, nurses, and dental advisers give expert information and advice over the phone and are available 365 days a year