Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect


7:42 pm - August 28th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Guardian reported today:

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has let slip that the government is planning to scrap NHS Direct, the hugely popular medical telephone helpline.

While touring Basingstoke and North Hampshire hospital on Thursday, he revealed that the phone service – which this year cost £123m to run – is to be axed.

Until Lansley’s apparent indiscretion, the official government line was that a new free telephone service, NHS 111, would not replace existing local telephone services or NHS Direct but might do so in the longer term if a pilot scheme is successful.

The announcement brought an immediate outcry online, with a website: SaveNHSdirect.co.uk quickly being set up with a petition.

Labour’s John Prescott has also been tweeting heavily with the hashtag #saveNHSdirect.

Sign the petition!

Sunder Katwala predicts this will be another Coalition u-turn

Mr Prescott is aiming to get 100,000 signatures for his petition – a figure which Prime Minister David Cameron said should trigger a Commons debate. Over 3,000 people have signed already

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Stephen Taylor

It’s a Labour policy. Prescott is an idiot.

How does the coalition policy to replace the NHS Direct number (which very few people know off by heart) with the 111 number, differs from the NHS plans to do the same outlined last year in http://ow.ly/2wcab.

This idea also seems to be reflected on p35 of Labour’s 2010 manifesto: http://bit.ly/bHCGHF.

Is this yet another example of Labour hopping up & down, complaining about something they’d already set in motion anyway?

[As an aside, the only I time I ever tried using NHS Direct it took about 1/2 hour to get through and then I was given advice which a friend, who also worked at NHS Direct at the time, judged to be so dangerous, she told me I should report them! Apparently not all NHS Direct call centres are qually reliable, which ought to be a matter of some concern in itself.]

God how dim can people be?

Labour wasn’t replacing NHS Direct, it was providing 111 in addition to NHS Direct. Do keep up.

Nope. Not a petition I shall be signing. NHS Direct is rubbish and was set up by the rubbish New Labour types who are bleating on about it going.

5. Libby Dyson

Hear hear. NHS Direct is *rubbish*. Try it now – if you ring up and there is something wrong with you, they’ll tell you to go to your doctor. Or A&E. Whereas if you ring up and there is nothing wrong with you, they tell you to go to your doctor anyway, “just in case”. £123million a year for that, and it’s a “success”. Christ.

Better off with a recorded message saying “I’m sorry, we can’t possibly diagnose your problems over the phone. Duh. If you think you’re ill, go and see your doctor. Otherwise, please go away.”

Not that I generally tend to believe what I read in The Telegraph, but here’s another article about the 111 number from 2009: http://bit.ly/8zLX5S.

“Eventually it will replace NHS Direct which currently gives health and medical advice through call handlers and nurses.”

It’s very unclear indeed whether there’s any difference worth talking about between Labour & Coalition plans for the 111 number.

It’s a Labour policy. Prescott is an idiot.

I see political opponents are on message.

See what Richard said above. Also – Labour policy was to replace numbers not axe the whole service. Do keep up.

When I am ill or when my washing machine breaks, I might pick up the telephone to ask a question. The person at the other end is not required to know the answer but should be able to put me in contact with somebody who is more knowledgable.

If I phone NHS Direct, I can ask the operator where my nearest 24 hour pharmacist operates or about whether I should be concerned about momentary loss of feeling in my left hand. The operator is required to be an expert in both fields: local commerce and remote clinical diagnosis. Have you not spotted an internal tension there: which skill is more important? Don’t worry though; there is a nurse in every call centre.

I can hardly wait for the demise of NHS Direct.

If I want to know where to fill my prescription, I can phone Yellow Pages or a similar service.

When ill, I’d like to talk to a doctor.

This all sounds shockingly expensive. But if you are poorly, NHS Direct will pack you off to A&E or the locum. That is considerably more expensive than a quick chat with the locum who might say “just leave it to tomorrow”.

With respect to call centre operators, professional services should be left to professionals.

On second reading of the original piece, I am further dismayed.

Sunder Katwala argues in favour of NHS Direct (Plus) because NHS Direct (Minus) will be a bit more shitty. Sunder is also smart enough to understand that it is insufficient for government to provide an “iffy” service.

The lefty, liberal argument should be that NHS Direct is superfluous. It is an unnecessary intermediary between care and the request for attention. If you need help, phone your doctor or the local infirmary.

It’s not obvious that the coalition plan to “axe” the service any more than Labour did when they planned to “eventually … replace NHS Direct”. http://bit.ly/8zLX5S.

I’m still not at all clear what the FACTS are about how the Labour & Coalition plans differ. (Has the Coalition policy even been settled yet?)

BTW, did I mention that my friend stopped working for NHS Direct because they were awful to work for? Not a caring employer at all apparently.

‘The lefty, liberal argument should be that NHS Direct is superfluous. It is an unnecessary intermediary between care and the request for attention.’

Yes! As GP’s have said. But surprise, surprise, a bunch of tribalists are arguing for keeping the rubbish system in favour of another rubbish but cheaper system, simply because they belonged to the tribe that set it up.

12. Luis Enrique

does anybody have any data on how much NHS Direct costs and how effective it is? If not, how the hell can anybody have an opinion either way, other than by experience of using the service oneself, which is not much of a basis. .

Try using google Luis, it might help.

For example, in 2002 the cost of calling NHS Direct was higher than the cost of a GP’s visit. It is now less because GP’s wages have increased so much since then. Calls to NHS Direct Wales cost about £10 more each than calling the English version. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper if people just used common sense and waited until the morning to phone the GP if symptoms continued, or visited A&E straightaway if symptoms were serious. This is what NHS Direct advise anyway, at a cost of £123m a year in England and £9m in Wales.

Even better would be if Govt re-established a proper system for access to GP’s out-of-hours but Labour didn’t bother to do that and the tories are hardly going to.

@12. Luis Enrique: “does anybody have any data on how much NHS Direct costs and how effective it is?”

Luis, you are smart enough to understand that the answer to every ‘headline question’ is ‘NO’. 😉 Were you merely seeking reassurance?

I would like to see some raw data about the efficacy of NHS Direct. Genuinely.

This all sounds shockingly expensive.

Nick Chapman CEO NHS Direct: “In 2008 we saved the NHS £162m by reducing demand on face-to-face services”

I’m glad people are making evidence based assertions here. I’ve actually used NHS direct and I found it very useful at a time there was no chance of getting a doctor and a friend needed some crucial advice.

“I’ve actually used NHS direct and I found it very useful at a time there was no chance of getting a doctor and a friend needed some crucial advice.”

Yes… a ‘friend’. I do hope your ‘friends’ condition cleared up. I’d hate for you to be ill Sunny…err, sorry, I mean I’d hate for your ‘friend’ to be ill.

Nick Chapman CEO NHS Direct: “In 2008 we saved the NHS £162m by reducing demand on face-to-face services”

How exactly? Show me the evidence.

@17. Surely you are not suggesting that the CEO of NHS Direct might have a motive to exaggerate the importance of NHS Direct? I mean, how on Earth could THAT happen!??!?

“Better off with a recorded message saying “I’m sorry, we can’t possibly diagnose your problems over the phone. Duh. If you think you’re ill, go and see your doctor. Otherwise, please go away.””

If you want to see a doctor, then you wait until office hours to call and usually get an appointment 3 days later. If you think you are dying then you call 999. Its the in-between stuff that is crucial. that is when people are suffering but don’t think they are dying, and badly need advice on what to do (even if that advice is telling somebody where the out of hours doctor can be). NHS direct does this extremely well, and provides an essential service. They help keep the GPs surgeries free of people who just need a few days rest, and direct the seriously ill people to where help is needed.

Furthermore they can identify potentially serious stuff (where the patient themselves doesn’t think it is serious) and direct ambulances to an area, ensuring potentially life threatening stuff is identified and dealt with.

Three and half years ago NHS direct saved my life as a direct result of a call I made at 2am – I was suffering, but didn’t think my condition was life threatening. They identified what seemed to me a minor symptom (inability to swallow my own saliva) and sent an ambulance, thus ensuring 2 hours later when I started choaking and being unable to breathe due to a blocked airway I was already in hospital and could get treatment.

If it doesn’t get replaced with a similar service then people are going to die.

The way of saving noney is through Education!! Teach people about basic health care, how to manage d and v yes whilst not nice does not need a doctor unless it continues for more than 72 hours! Have not passed urine or drank anything! A headache may be solved by taking paracetamol! A rash is not always meningitis especially if child running around!! Toothache see a dentist (sorry you cannot register with a nhs one)! A child immunisation will cause a lump! A hevy cold or flu is not nice to have! People knock nhs Direct but the calls passed thtough the 999 ambulance service are often based on these symptoms! They are not medically trained the “health Advisors at NHS Direct are not medically trained so they have to stivk eith the vomputer!! The nurses are buty then people tell you what they want!! So fine call the ambulance if you have D and V! Let the really ill person who doesnt want to bother the DR be really ill!!! Let them die! While the worried well take up the reduced ooh time for the doctors!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  2. Bin27

    RT @libcon: Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  3. Rory Porteous

    RT @libcon: Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  4. Malcolm Evison

    Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/a5PJGe via @addthis

  5. Samuel West

    RT @libcon: Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  6. Kevin Ward

    Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2 (via @libcon) erm… @johnprescott isn't an MP…

  7. kevinrye

    RT @libcon: Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  8. SMS PolicyWatch

    RT @libcon: Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect http://bit.ly/cno1d2

  9. blogs of the world

    Campaign launched to #saveNHSdirect. by Sunny Hundal August 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm. The Guard… http://reduce.li/o7up4a #campaign





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