Union says fewer nurses means less clinical advice to patients


Patient safety and quality of care are being put at risk by plans to cut the number of nurses and dental nurses providing clinical advice through the proposed NHS 111 service being rolled out across England, warned UNISON.

The union has learned the first contract to be awarded at County Durham and Darlington requires 50% fewer nurses.

The current NHS Direct contract for the area has 45 nurses and nine dental nurses providing clinical advice to patients, but under NHS 111 the number of nurses answering calls will be axed from 54 to just 25. If this is repeated in further contracts to be awarded over the next few months, NHS Direct could face the prospect of having to make more than 500 nurses redundant nationally.

UNISON, along with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, has already called for a pause in the roll-out of NHS 111, warning that 111 will undermine standards and increase the already enormous pressure on hospital A&E units and GP practices.

Michael Walker, UNISON National Officer for NHS Direct said: “UNISON believes cutting the number of qualified nurses and dental nurses providing clinical advice to patients will not only reduce the quality and scope of care available, but also increase the pressure on the already overstretched NHS.

“The purpose of NHS Direct and the NHS 111 service should be to provide clinical advice and reassurance to patients who do not necessarily need to access emergency or urgent care but may be worried about a child or other family member. This reduces the pressure on ambulance services, A&E units and GP practices, all of which are already facing enormous strain on their resources.

“Presently 75% of patients’ calls to NHS Direct are dealt with by nurses, but under the new NHS 111 service contracts this number will plummet to only 17%, with no provision being made for clinical assessments, call-backs or dental advice – services that are provided by NHS Direct, and that are essential when callers are anxious about their own health, or the health of a loved one.

“We simply don’t understand why the Department of Health is looking to sack up to 500 well-trained and highly-prized nurses, particularly when all evidence points to the need for more – not less – nurses carrying out vital clinical assessments through NHS 111.

“We have called on the government to pause the roll-out of NHS 111, backed by other healthcare professionals at the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing, for this very reason.”

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