Ambulance trust admits its Norfolk 111 service is running £2m a year over budget

East of England ambulance control centre in Norwich. Call handler.  Photo: Bill Smith East of England ambulance control centre in Norwich. Call handler. Photo: Bill Smith

Tuesday, February 4, 2014
6:30 AM

The beleaguered NHS non-emergency helpline has been hit by another financial blow after it emerged that the Norfolk 111 service is running £2m a year over budget.

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The East of England Ambulance Service has admitted that it is running over its forecasted costs for its NHS 111 contract.

The ambulance service launched the Norfolk 111 service in December 2012 as a pilot. However, the roll-out of the service across the country has been plagued by controversy after NHS Direct pulled out of 11 contracts because of financial problems.

The Norfolk 111 service is run from the ambulance service’s Norwich control room in Hellesdon and deals with around 5,000 calls a week.

Officials from the NHS trust admitted that the free helpline was running £2m a year over budget and that they were seeking extra cash from the Clinical Commissioning Groups that fund the service.

An anonymous senior manager at the East of England Ambulance Service, said the trust was using call handlers in Bedford to answer Norfolk 111 calls.

The whistleblower said: “Our senior managers are flippantly wasting taxpayers’ money on the Norfolk 111 service. EEAST massively underestimated the true cost of delivering the Norfolk 111 service and are wasting millions of pounds by diverting funds that would otherwise be spent on frontline paramedics and ambulances. It is a disgrace.”

Commissioners last year said the Norfolk NHS 111 service was working well and was meeting standards required, despite some initial teething problems.

A spokesman for the ambulance service said it was normal for staff to support colleagues from elsewhere in the East of England because it saved costs on training up new people.

“We’re over the 111 forecast by about £2m but the assertion that this is being wasted is a really misguided one – obviously no-one wants to be over the forecast costs but every penny of it is being used, predominantly on staffing to ensure we’re maintaining the good performance levels.”

“So that we can stabilise it, there’s been ongoing talks with commissioners about funding. This is the situation for many providers nationally and the CCGs play their part in supporting the 111 service, just like any other area of the ambulance service really. There’s an overspend, but it’s being spent on what it needs to right now and we’re actively trying to stabilise it,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for the South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, the lead commissioner for Norfolk 111, added: “Discussions are currently taking place with EEAST regarding the perceived overspend. The 111 service is currently performing well and meeting all of its key targets.”

NHS Direct withdrew from 11 out of 46 111 contracts in the North West, West Midlands, London, Somerset, Buckinghamshire, North Essex and Cornwall last year after getting into £26m of debt and saying the 111 contracts were “financially unstainable”.

What are your experiences of the Norfolk 111 service? Email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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