New Operator Of NHS Direct Service Announced

The NHS in Cornwall and Scilly has announced who will operate the replacement for NHS Direct in the islands.

It’s NHS Direct.

The Primary Care Trust is giving the contract for the new 111 phone service, due to start in March 2013, to the current phone advice provider.

They’ll be able to connect callers to 999 if it sounds like they need emergency treatment and callers shouldn’t have to repeat information.

But in the March Health Committee meeting, Director of Community Services, Penny Penn Howard warned that the unique weather and geographic situation of the islands had to be taken into account when awarding the contract.

Penny said there could be a time when someone on St Martin’s rings the helpline with chest pains in a force 8 gale. Unless the operator understands the situation, she said, there could be “some crazy conversations going on.”

At the time, Zoe Howard from the NHS told Councillors that bidders would have to show how they could cope in the setting of the islands as part of the tendering process.

In the same March meeting Carol Clark of LINk4Scilly asked for calls from the islands to be flagged up so call centre staff would be aware of a caller’s unique situation.

Carol Williams, Director of Nursing for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, told us that the new system will have a live directory of services available on the islands and operators will be aware of the geography and issues here.

She said there will also be a member of staff continually updating the system based on changes to services and day-to-day issues such as weather forecasts.

Carol felt that the new system would actually be an enhancement on the current helpline.

She said: “We know people can be confused about which NHS service to use when they need help quickly, and too often they use the wrong service.

The 111 system will add more general information, such as pharmacy and GP opening hours, and that could prove invaluable to the thousands of visitors to the islands, says Carol.