Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/637/10180
The callous cutting of NHS Direct
FOR SOME months now staff at NHS Direct have known we were getting a new phone number. It has been seen as a positive move as reports suggested that three-quarters of people in England did not know the NHS Direct 0845 4647 number.
An NHS Direct worker
When Mike O'Brian was a health minister under the previous government he said: "Patients have told us that they need clear, easy advice on how to find health care when they don't need to go to A&E. We have asked Ofcom to consult on making a new national 111 number available for them." Three call centres were set up to trial the number.
So when staff at NHS Direct in Southampton received the news on 28 August that the government was scrapping NHS Direct and replacing it with NHS111 it was met with disbelief and confusion. It had been casually mentioned the previous day when health secretary Andrew Lansley was on a visit to a Basingstoke hospital but it was not until midday on the Saturday that the plan was confirmed.
The announcement being made over a bank holiday weekend caught both unions and bosses by surprise. Senior management had, just an hour before, denied that anything was wrong.
In an interview on Sky Television in the afternoon, NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman was left red faced when he was forced to admit that NHS111 was going to replace NHS Direct and he could not say how many jobs would be lost. NHS Direct currently employs more than 3,000 staff, 40% of whom are trained nurses. The rest are health advisors, dental nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, as well as administration staff.
At the NHS111 call centres there are as few as one nurse for 25 non-qualified call operators. This will lead to a substantial loss in quality of service.
The timing of this announcement has shown NHS Direct staff the contempt the Con-Dem government has for the public services. A Unison steward said: "I have staff in tears all around the office with real fears for their jobs and no one cares."
People are already being affected. New staff recruitment has stopped and working hours have been frozen. Some people who were expecting to start work this week were told they are no longer required. Staff who recently took early retirement but have been re-employed on a bank basis have been told there will be no more work.
In The Socialist 9 September 2010:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review