CONCERNS have been raised about the future of the NHS 111 non-emergency helpline.
It is used by people across Coventry and the West Midlands – and is championed as a lifeline for those who need advice or medical assistance fast.
But trade union Unison has expressed fears about the service’s future after it was temporarily contracted out to a new bidder.
West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) has run the service since 2013 when it took over providing non-emergency telephone advice from NHS Direct.
The service is commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group for the whole of the West Midlands.
But earlier this year a temporary contract to run the service was put out to tender until the full five-year contract is awarded early next year.
WMAS bid for the service and despite its track record was denied the contract.
Instead, it was awarded to the private contractor; West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care, part of the Vocare Group.
Chanel Camilleri-Willis, UNISON West Midlands Regional Organiser said: “When NHS 111 was run by WMAS the service was amongst the best performing in the country, handling over eight hundred and fifty thousand call a year.
“The public of the West Midlands clearly value this service and I believe would want it to remain in the hands of a public organisation which has a proven track record of delivering it.
“There is evidence from across the country that NHS 111 is a difficult and complex service to run. There have been a number of well documented problems including, in June this year, the failures at Oxfordshire NHS 111.
“Given these issues it is essential that Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG think carefully about their responsibilities to the people of the West Midlands and consider carefully who they award the full contract too.”
A spokesperson for Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “On behalf of all the other commissioners in the West Midlands we remain committed to a strong, safe NHS 111 service that is available 24/7 and supports the wider urgent care system.
“Over the last two years the 22 CCGs in the West Midlands area have worked with two organisations for the successful delivery of NHS111 services. After lengthy discussions with West Midlands Ambulance Service, we were unable to agree the terms for extending their current step-in arrangement and so we have asked the other organisation West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care to take over all services across the West Midlands, pending the outcome of a full public procurement which will begin later this autumn.
“West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care already run proven, effective NHS111 services for more than four million people in other parts of the UK and has recently been awarded a long term contract for the delivery of NHS111 services in Staffordshire.
“We are proud of our record in commissioning quality NHS 111 services and many of the innovations that we have introduced are now being used as best practice nationally. We continue to prioritise the interest of our patients in the services we commission.”