NHS Directs advice to patients saves £50m

24 Jan 02
The 24-hour health service helpline NHS Direct has 'saved' up to £50m a year by reducing the pressure on GPs and casualty departments, the National Audit Office said this week.

25 January 2002

The NAO estimated that NHS Direct was offsetting half its running costs by directing patients to more suitable forms of health care. Launched in 1998 with this aim, the nurse-led service cost £78m in 2000/01 and £99m in 2001/02.

Around 72% of callers would have contacted a GP without NHS Direct advice, the NAO said, but only 54% needed to see a GP, while most of the remaining callers could care for themselves.

Night calls to one GP co-operative fell by 18% when callers were transferred first to NHS Direct. The helpline also added value by reassuring callers and saving them unnecessary anxiety, the NAO added.

Sir John Bourn, the comptroller and auditor general, praised the service's safety record but added that it needed a long-term strategy. This should include plans to recruit sufficient numbers of nurses without exacerbating staff shortages elsewhere in the NHS, he said.

The helpline could also do more to raise awareness of its services among the over-65s, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

'The service is valued by those who use it and, according to the evidence available, is starting to meet its aim of directing people to more appropriate forms of health care,' Bourn concluded. 'The challenge now is to meet the expected rapid increase in callers and to set a clear future direction for the service.'


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