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NHS Direct to close in 2014

NHS Direct, the telephone advice service that many GPs refer patients to after-hours, is to close at the end of the financial year, putting more than 700 jobs at risk.

NHS Direct, which has been running for 15 years, has been effectively superseded by the NHS 111 scheme, which was introduced in some areas earlier this year to cope with people who felt they needed care but were not a 999 emergency.

NHS Direct was set up by the Labour government and had continued to operate. It took on some of the 111 contracts around the country, but was forced to withdraw from them earlier this year. Five ambulance trusts have taken on the staff and call centres from NHS Direct, but other redundancy costs could rise to £15m.

In the end, it came down to money. NHS Direct could not provide the 111 services at a financially sustainable cost and commissioners could not afford to pay for the former’s services separately from the latter’s.

Joanne Shaw, chair of NHS Direct, said: “The closure of NHS Direct marks the end of its 15 years of continuous innovation, during which time it has led the world in remote health assessment, advice and information. It is an enormous privilege to have been part of this journey, and I look back over my 10 years with NHS Direct with gratitude and respect for the staff who have created this exceptional service.

“I look forward to seeing other organisations take forward a number of the services developed by NHS Direct, and I wish them well as they exploit the ever-growing reach and power of technology, to provide value to patients and the NHS.”

NHS England says that 93% of the population now has access to NHS 111 and that 82% of people who call up are satisfied with the service.

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