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NHS Online consult service to live on: Calls go to 111

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The Department of Health has said there are no immediate plans to drop the NHS Direct web service, despite signalling the end of telephone consultations.

It has issued a statement saying that the site, which provides a first stop for medical advice, will remain in operation while the government reviews the wider use of information in the health service.

This follows the confirmation that it plans to replace the NHS Direct telephone consultation service with the 111 telephone line.

A DoH spokesperson said: "Following the publication of the white paper Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, a further consultation on the NHS information strategy will inform how patients and the public will be able to access online information and services in the future. In the meantime, online services provided by NHS Choices, NHS Direct and local NHS organisations will continue to support other NHS services."

This followed reports that the department is planning to replace the NHS Direct telephone helpline. Health secretary Andrew Lansley said at the weekend that the service, which costs over £120m a year to run, is to be axed in favour of the new 111 service.

Following this, the DoH issued a statement that said: "The NHS 111 telephone number will eventually replace NHS Direct when it is rolled out nationally and will provide a single point of access for all urgent care services. This has never been available before but makes real sense."

It went on to claim: "This is not a cost cutting exercise, but is about providing a better service to patients. We want to put an end to the confusion over what services are available when and where, and provide people with two simple numbers: 999 for emergencies, 111 for everything else."

The move has attracted criticism as the 111 service will be staffed primarily by non-specialist call advisers, whereas NHS Direct uses qualified nurses.

The DoH launched the pilots for 111 in County Durham and Darlington at the beginning of last week. According to a report in The Guardian, it has just one nurse on duty for referrals with up to 25 operators at each of the two call centres used in the pilot.

Further pilots are due to begin later in the year in Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Luton.

This article was originally published at Kable.

Kable's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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