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NHS Direct prepares to axe 1,200 jobs as it loses helpline bids

Chief executive’s devastating e-mail to staff warns of threat to 23 NHS Direct centres

We do know that the overall number of jobs in NHS Direct will be substantially lower than it is currently

Nick Chapman, chief executive, NHS Direct, writing in an e-mail to staff

NHS Direct has lost out on most of the local contracts to run new 111 helpline services in England, a leaked internal e-mail reveals. And it is preparing to cut more than 1,200 jobs.

Exaro has obtained a copy of a devastating e-mail sent to NHS Direct staff members by their chief executive, Nick Chapman, revealing that more than half of them will lose their jobs at the health helpline.

NHS Direct employs more than 2,500 people, including part-time workers, according to its latest annual report. It is part of the UK’s National Health Service and has the equivalent to 2,000 full-time jobs.

In the e-mail, sent a fortnight ago, Chapman says: “The new organisation will look and feel very different to the current NHS Direct.”

“We do know that the overall number of jobs in NHS Direct will be substantially lower than it is currently – most probably, less than half the current number.”

With all but two of the 44 local contracts decided, NHS Direct has won 11 bids. Chapman says that this represents less than 34 per cent of England’s population.

“We have emerged as the single biggest provider of the 111 service,” writes Chapman.

“While this is good news, we have not hidden from the fact that the decommissioning of the 0845 service and its replacement by 111 will bring with it change for all of us who work for NHS Direct. We now face the task of rapidly mobilising the necessary people, facilities and systems needed to enable the new 111 services to ‘go live’ for the public over the next five months.”

Exaro today publishes Chapman’s e-mail in full.

NHS Direct has lost bids to private operators and social-enterprise companies run by doctors. In addition, NHS bodies – mostly ambulance services – will take over some contracts. But NHS Direct did not even bid in some areas.

David Cameron, prime minister, announced the launch of the free 111 service just over a year ago. It is aimed at being a single contact point for non-emergency care outside normal surgery hours.

In June, Exaro revealed NHS Direct was losing out to private companies to run new 111 helpline services. The evidence came from another Chapman e-mail leaked to Exaro.

The more recent e-mail reveals that NHS Direct will begin the process of consulting staff over redundancies within two weeks.

NHS Direct has 30 contact centres and a head office in London. Chapman’s e-mail says that centres in Carlisle, Middlebrook in Bolton, Dudley, Milton Keynes, Exeter and London will provide 111 services. Home working will continue “where suitable and appropriate to the needs of the service”.

“Beyond this, the future of the remaining NHS Direct sites is uncertain,” writes Chapman.

Centres in Chatham and Hedge End in Southampton will remain until November 2013 to run the NHS “appointments-line” service, through which patients can book initial hospital or clinic appointments. That contract is due to be re-tendered in a year’s time.

A spokeswoman for NHS Direct said: “The omission of the names of the other centres does not mean that they will necessarily close because NHS Direct will be bidding for other work that can be based at these contact centres.”

Some staff members will transfer to NHS ambulance trusts supplying 111 helpline services, and they will keep their contractual terms, although, according to Chapman’s e-mail, there is a dispute over this in the North East of England.

His e-mail also makes clear that movement of staff to non-NHS bodies, such as GP out-of-hours providers, has encountered legal problems relating to the protection of employment rights. He adds that NHS Direct had been unable to resolve the problems despite enlisting the help of the Department of Health.

He says that most of the switchover from the national 0845 helpline to local 111 services will take place next March.

He concludes by saying: “I understand that you will most probably still feel uncertain about the future,” adding, “I understand how frustrating it is to still be in this position.”

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