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Ambulance director warns trust could pull out of Norfolk 111 helpline because of funding shortfall

PUBLISHED: 08:13 20 June 2014 | UPDATED: 09:51 20 June 2014

East of England ambulance control centre in Norwich. Call handler.  Photo: Bill Smith

East of England ambulance control centre in Norwich. Call handler. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

Bosses from the region’s ambulance service have warned that they could pull out of running an NHS phoneline because of a major funding shortfall.

Officials from the East of England Ambulance Service admitted earlier this year that it was £2m over budget for the Norfolk 111 service.

The NHS trust launched the non-emergency helpline at the end of 2012 and has a contract to deliver 111 until 2015. However, the ambulance service has called on Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) in Norfolk to increase their funding to meet the shortfall and has warned the contract could be terminated this year.

In a report to the ambulance trust board, interim director of finance, Stephen Day, said the Norfolk 111 service was running at a “significant loss” and “despite continuing negotiations with CCGs, adequate funding has not yet been secured for 14-15. Unless funding can be secured there remains the potential that this contract could be ceased in 14-15.”

The 24/7 Norfolk 111 service, which replaced NHS Direct, is run from the ambulance service’s Norwich control room in Hellesdon and deals with around 5,000 calls a week.

History of 111

■ The East of England Ambulance Service began providing the Norfolk 111 service in December 2012 as a pilot. Its Norfolk 111 contract expires in 2015.

■ However, the roll-out of the service across the country has been plagued by controversy after NHS Direct pulled out of 11 contracts because of financial problems.

■ NHS Direct withdrew from 11 out of 46 111 contracts last year in the North West, West Midlands, London, Somerset, Buckinghamshire, North Essex and Cornwall last year after getting into £26m of debt.

■ Commissioners say the Norfolk 111 service is working well and meeting targets.

■ An anonymous senior manager at the East of England Ambulance Service, said earlier this year that the trust was using call handlers in Bedford to answer Norfolk 111 calls.

In a statement, Anthony Marsh, East of England Ambulance Service CEO, said: “We are holding discussions with commissioners about ongoing funding.”

“Our performance in 111 is excellent. I am pleased to report that good levels of progress have been made in this 111 service and an assessment by one of our CCGs into auditing and frequent callers led to a ‘full achievement’ mark which is down to hardworking and committed staff.”

Ann Donkin, the chief executive of NHS South Norfolk CCG, added: “Norfolk CCGs and the East of England Ambulance Service are committed to ensuring that the combined 111 and out of hours contract delivers a responsive and affordable service for our patients. It is our intention that EEAST should continue providing these services to the end of the contract.”

“Finances are tight in all NHS services and we have acknowledged that the Norfolk 111 service is no exception - the entire NHS is working hard to deliver care to patients within existing budgets. The CCGs recognised the improvement in both quality and volume of performance in 2013-14 by a making a small additional investment. Negotiations for 2014-15 are continuing and should be concluded shortly.

“The service is well regarded and is meeting its quality targets. Of course, we shall continue talking with EEAST to ensure the 111 service is delivered, and performs well.”

What are your experiences of Norfolk 111 service? Call Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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