NHS helpline 'won't be cost-effective' to taxpayers - Capita

IT outsourcer won't confirm or deny withdrawal of bid

Capita has expressed concerns over the tender process to provide a replacement service for NHS Direct – following a report that it had withdrawn from the bidding.

Another private sector government service provider, Serco, has already confirmed that it took an internal decision not to bid in the multi-million pound replacement programme to provide a new 24-hour 111 helpline, while Care UK confirmed: "We're not bidding for any 111 contracts at present."

Now Capita has outlined its reservations, although it would not confirm or deny that it had withdrawn from the tender process.

In a statement, the company said: "Clearly there are ways that the NHS Direct helpline could be improved and run more efficiently. However, the current tender process is not constructed in a manner that will result in cost-effective services that can flex to the dynamic needs of the public. In particular, it does not currently allow any online interaction."

Capita's comments follow criticism of the planned 111 service expressed by Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association, speaking at its national GP conference last week.

He said: "NHS 111: A good idea – one that could, if properly implemented, be of benefit to patients. We have been very vocal about our concerns about how this is rolling out, but at the moment a potentially dangerous version of NHS 111 is set to burst forth upon an unsuspecting public from April next year.

"Patients may end up being sent to the wrong place, waiting longer, blocking A&E and using ambulances needlessly, when a little more consideration might make it all work properly."

Buckman said he had asked health secretary Andrew Lansley to delay implementation because "this change is too big and too important to be allowed to fail just because of some arbitrary deadline. Nobody sensible would change urgent care services this way, but the English NHS is forging ahead despite the risks".

One of the NHS's biggest out-of-hours providers, Harmoni, recently won contracts to provide NHS 111 services in Suffolk and south London.

Harmoni was selected as the preferred bidder to operate the 111 service on behalf of NHS Suffolk, starting in February 2013. The company, which is the largest provider of urgent care services in the country, already operates the Suffolk out-of-hours GP and dental service and recently started providing NHS 111 services in Hillingdon and Croydon. It will start providing NHS Suffolk's service in February 2013. The value of the Suffolk contract has not been disclosed.

Health Minister Simon Burns said of the new service: "NHS 111 is being introduced to make it easier for people to get the health care advice they need or to get to the right health care service, first time – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

"Local NHS organisations are working with GPs and other clinical professionals to decide who should provide their local 111 service. They will make their decision based upon who will give the best service for patients and the best value for money for the taxpayer."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.


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