Headlines: January 25th, 2002

NHS Direct has been given a clean bill of health by the National Audit Office. The national telephone healthcare advice service operated by nurses has achieved a high level of customer satisfaction, has a good safety record, and does appear to be reducing the burden on front line healthcare providers like GPs.It its first major commentary on the national roll-out, the NAO praises the achievement in getting the national service up and running smoothly. It estimates that NHS Direct is off-setting around half of its running costs by encouraging more appropriate use of NHS services. For example, one GP Co-operative providing services outside normal working hours recorded a fall of 18 per cent in the number of calls received when callers were transferred to NHS Direct first.

The NAO also says NHS Direct adds value by reassuring callers and saving them unnecessary anxiety.

In less than three years NHS Direct has met before deadline its target that 60 per cent of the population aware of the service by March 2002. The NAO recommends longer term strategic and business planning now to deal with the expected rapid increase in demand for NHS Direct that doesn’t exacerbate nurse shortages elsewhere in the NHS.

Evidence indicates that NHS Direct is operating safely, and advice to callers errs on the side of caution. There were 29 cases where advice led to ‘adverse events’ in three years, fewer than one for every 220,000 calls.

Link: www.nao.gov.uk .