No date yet set for full launch of Wiltshire’s new NHS 111 phone service

Written by Tony Millett.

Wiltshire’s NHS 111 system is still not ready for a full scale launch.  The private contractor Harmoni has not resolved all the faults in the system - including people not getting phone calls through, delays in treatment and ambulances called out unnecessarily.

The Harmoni NHS 111 service is being established across Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) and Wiltshire, following a ‘soft’ launch in February. This means that a test period is now underway in order to identify problems and rectify them before the service goes fully live.

The Wiltshire service missed the government’s April 1 deadline to go live – as did NHS 111 in more than half the country.  Following meetings with Harmoni executives, it has now been decided to defer the full launch until all issues have been sorted out and the system is safe.

The contract is looked after by the BANES Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and their senior officer, Dr Simon Douglas:   “Performance is continuing to improve, but we know that some patients and providers are still experiencing some problems with getting through to the service as well as delays in receiving treatment particularly during busy weekend periods.”

“We’d like to apologise for this and reassure patients that we are continuing to work with our NHS 111 provider, Harmoni, to resolve the remaining issues before the service is launched in full.”

Dr Douglas explained there had been a reduction in the number of 999 ambulances dispatched by the NHS 111 service.
When fully launched, NHS 111 will be a free to call service, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – replacing NHS Direct. It will act as a one stop shop for patients if their healthcare need is urgent, but not a 999 emergency.

A statement emphasised that both CCGs and Harmoni are committed to providing a safe and high quality NHS 111 service and contingency plans, involving the established local out-of-hours GP service for patients, have been in place throughout this period. 

NHS England, which oversees the CCGs, supports the their decision and is working with them to ensure the service meets national requirements.

Meanwhile, NHS England is to conduct an urgent review of the sustainability of NHS 111 across England. A paper prepared for its board meeting acknowledged that a ‘small number’ of NHS 111 contractors had provided an ‘unacceptable service.’

A senior executive at NHS England is worried that some contractors had bid low because they were counting on economies of scale across their contracts.  If they then lost one contract they might not be able to sustain the service elsewhere.

NHS England has admitted that the ‘market’ in NHS 111 contracts may need to be ‘managed’.  This is an early admission by NHS England that dividing up the NHS into smaller, privatised units can have dangers.

The cross-party Health Select Committee of MPs is also enquiring into emergency services and emergency care – an enquiry which will include the transition from NHS Direct to NHS 111.