FEARS have been expressed over the future of NHS 111 after the 24-hour service was taken over by a private company.
West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) has run it since 2013 when it took over providing non emergency telephone advice from NHS Direct.
The service is commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG for the West Midlands and earlier this year put out to tender a temporary contract before a five-year deal is awarded early next year.
A bid was made WMAS to continue running NHS 111, which handles thousands of calls per day, but the group instead opted to award it to West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care.
The decision has sparked fears among trade union bosses, with Chanel Camilleri-Willis, regional organiser at UNISON West Midlands urging the CCG to keep it in the public’s hands.
“When NHS 111 was run by WMAS the service was amongst the best performing in the country handling over 850,000 calls a year,” she said.
“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”
However, Andy Williams, of Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG, defended giving the temporary contract to West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care as it also runs the NHS111 service in Staffordshire.
“After lengthy discussions with West Midlands Ambulance Service, we were unable to agree the terms for extending the current step-in arrangement,” he said.
“Therefore, West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care are running the NHS 111 service until the outcome of a full, public procurement exercise which begins in October and which will be for a longer term contract.
“West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care already run proven, effective NHS111 services for more than four million people in other parts of the UK.
“We are proud of our record in commissioning quality NHS 111 services and have worked with a number of providers.
“Aspects of our work are now used as best practice nationally and we continue to prioritise the interest of our patients in the services we commission.
“On behalf of the other commissioners in the Midlands we remain committed to a strong, safe NHS 111 service that is available 24/7 and supports the wider urgent care system.”