Fears over NHS Direct jobs as it is confirmed Norwich office will close

NHS Direct is to close most of its call centres which union leaders say could lead to the loss of hundreds of nursing and other jobs.

It has been confirmed that the NHS Direct operation in Norwich will close in July next year because its landlord, East of England Ambulance Service, needs the space at its base in Hospital Lane, Hellesdon.

However, an NHS Direct spokesman said the eight people still employed there might still be found new roles under the changing system.

Nearly 20 staff who previously worked there have already been redeployed with the area's new 111 provider East of England Ambulance Service.

She said many of the frontline nursing and other professional staff employed elsewhere in the country were also likely to be able to transfer or find new roles.

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Unison said 24 out of 30 sites will close as NHS Direct focuses delivery of the new 111 service on six sites.

Sandra Maxwell, Unison's convenor at NHS Direct, said: 'Hundreds of dedicated nursing and NHS professionals are to be made redundant at a huge cost, when their skills could be used within the new NHS111 service if only the Department of Health took some decisive action.'

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National officer Michael Walker said: 'The Secretary of State for Health should step in and stop this disaster immediately. We need action and we need it now.

'Axing dedicated hard-working nurses is never a good idea at any time, but this will directly impact on patient care. There is no doubt that patients will suffer as a result of this move.'

Unison said large centres in Bristol, Sheffield, Wakefield, Nottingham, Hull, Stafford, Chelmsford and Newcastle were among those set to close.

'Given that many of these NHS call centres are in areas of high unemployment there are very real fears for the staff's future job prospects.'

Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive, said: 'Reports today that suggest NHS Direct has announced that it is closing a large number of sites are incorrect.

'We have not confirmed that any sites are closing. At this stage we have confirmed which sites we will be keeping open to deliver NHS 111 in the areas where we have been commissioned to provide the service.

'The sites are: Middlebrook, Carlisle, Dudley, Exeter, Milton Keynes and London.

'Home working will be an option for some of our nurses as an alternative to working from a site.

'The future of other NHS Direct sites has not been decided. We are in discussion with the Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board about the future of other non-111 services that we could be asked to deliver before making decisions.'

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: 'For a while we have said that the plans to replace NHS Direct with 111 are a mistake and will result in nothing more than a pale shadow of what NHS Direct is.

'We have always been huge supporters of NHS Direct and believe it has matured into a highly effective service providing tried and tested quality advice.'

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