As NHS Direct announces it is pulling out of providing the 111 non-emergency telephone helpline service in Bucks, a spokesman for Healthwatch Bucks said the service was launched prematurely.
NHS Direct initially won 11 of the 46 regional contracts for providing the service, including Bucks, but now wants to withdraw from all of them as it says they are ‘financially unsustainable’.
The NHS 111 line, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, has been riddled with controversy since its inception on April 1.
The line suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.
Buckingham town and district councillor Howard Mordue is a director of the newly established local NHS consumer watchdog service, Healthwatch Bucks.
He told the Advertiser: “I’m not an expert on the emergency services but, as a layman, I think the 111 service was rolled out prematurely for political purposes, to score brownie points.
“The idea for the national 111 number was originally cited by the Labour government and carried out by the Coalition.
“I think they hastened to get the thing launched so they could be seen to be reducing the burden on the emergency services.”
Mr Mordue’s views echo those of the Health Select Committee, which earlier this month criticised ministers for the ‘premature’ roll-out of the 111 service.
But Mr Mordue added: “NHS Direct should have looked at the cost of running their service before they entered into a formal contract.”
He said Healthwatch Bucks will be keeping a watching eye on the issue.
Aylesbury Vale and Chilterns Clinical Commissioning Groups, which oversees the 111 service locally, is now looking for a new provider for the service.
A spokesman said: “We are aware of the position regarding NHS Direct and are considering other providers who could operate this service for us in Bucks.
“111 in Bucks currently operates very well and we would not normally be looking for another provider at this point in time, but we understand the need to do this.
“We will therefore concentrate our efforts on identifying a suitable alternative provider and on ensuring a smooth transfer for the service.”
NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman said: “We will continue to provide a safe and reliable NHS 111 service to our patients until alternative arrangements can be made by commissioners.”