Birmingham & Black Country

West Midlands Ambulance Service 'to run NHS helpline'

The NHS 111 service across Birmingham and the Black Country is due to be taken over by West Midlands Ambulance Service, the BBC has been told.

The contract to run the NHS helpline was originally won by NHS Direct, but it has been fraught with problems.

Investigations are taking place into a handful of "potentially" serious incidents across the country, two of which happened in the West Midlands.

A spokesperson from NHS Direct said: "No decisions have yet been taken."

"We are in discussions with NHS England, NHS TDA [Trust Development Authority] and local commissioners about future delivery plans for NHS Direct's 111 contracts," they added.

NHS Direct won 11 of the 46 contracts for the telephone service for urgent but not life-threatening symptoms, but has already pulled out of Cornwall and North Essex.

A spokeswoman from NHS Direct said two incidents in the West Midlands were being investigated since the launch of the service in April.

One involving a patient death and another incident where there was a one hour delay in getting through to NHS 111 for a patient who was deteriorating in a nursing home.

West Midlands Ambulance Service is scheduled to take over in the autumn and run the contract for a year, two sources have told the BBC.

A new contract would then be tendered.

The ambulance service bid for the original contract but lost out narrowly on financial grounds.

'Disaster' in Birmingham

A source said there was a degree of nervousness about taking over a service which has been plagued with problems.

The ambulance service wants to be assured of the financial viability of the service before taking it on, they said.

Dr Robert Morley from the Birmingham Local Medical committee, said the 111 service had been a disaster in the city.

He confirmed he was aware that the contract was to be tendered again.

Both West Midlands Ambulance Service and the NHS Central Midlands Support Unit said they were unable to comment, but expected to be able to do so shortly.

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