Healthcare leaders have expressed concern over the announcement that NHS Direct is pulling out from providing the NHS 111 service.
NHS Direct had been providing the service in nine areas around the country. Earlier this year the organisation pulled out of two areas, because the services were “financially unsustainable”.
The organisation is seeking to agree “managed transfers” of the services and the frontline staff running them to other providers.
Dr Peter Carter, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive said that patient care could suffer because of the “chaos”.
He said: “Despite the best efforts of their staff, some parts of the NHS 111 service are now in chaos and urgent action is needed to prevent this from having tragic consequences for patients.
“This is the latest in a series of very worrying developments.”
And Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMAs) GP Committee agreed.
“The decision by NHS Direct to seek a withdrawal from its contracts to provide NHS 111 reveals worrying flaws not just with the tendering process for NHS 111 contracts, but for how contracts are awarded and monitored throughout the NHS.”
Dr Nagpaul warned that other parts of the NHS could fail in much the same way as NHS 111 has.
He added: “We cannot have a situation where patients are placed at risk or suffer from substandard healthcare because contracts have been improperly awarded.”
Dr Carter said: “This latest announcement raises concerns that a locally commissioned, fragmented system may simply not be able to provide the high standard of service and advice that patients need.”
NHS Direct did not have the capacity to deliver all 11 contracts that they had won.
In addition, they were paid a far lower rate to deliver NHS 111 than under the previous system, which in addition to receiving 30% to 40% fewer calls than expected, meant outgoing costs were far higher than money coming in.
However, the organisation said it will continue to provide the web, mobile and telephone services which complement NHS 111.
Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive said: "We will continue to provide a safe and reliable NHS 111 service to our patients until alternative arrangements can be made by commissioners.
“Whatever the outcome of the discussions on the future, patients will remain the central focus of our efforts, together with protecting our staff who work on NHS 111 to ensure that the service will continue to benefit from their skills and experience.”