HC Deb 28 July 1998 vol 317 cc166-8
12. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

What plans he has for extending NHS Direct. [50987]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

The new -hour, nurse-led telephone helpline, NHS Direct, will be nationwide in 2000. It is currently being piloted in three areas, and, by the end of this financial year, it will be extended to cover at least 20 per cent. of the population. Three of the new areas to be covered will be Manchester, Birmingham and Cornwall, and the others will be announced in early August.

Ms Stuart

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that NHS Direct will be extended to the country's second city, Birmingham. That is very much welcomed by all my constituents. Has my right hon. Friend analysed the success of the first wave of areas in which NHS Direct was used so that I may give my constituents a clear idea of what benefits they may receive from it?

Mr. Dobson

I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the proposed extension of the scheme to cover the great city of Birmingham. It may interest her constituents to know that some 80 per cent. of those who called said that they were following a course of action different from the one that they had intended to follow before making their call. Thus 80 per cent. of people were influenced by the nurse on the end of the helpline. Some 30 per cent. of callers were directed by the nurse to less resource-intensive care and some 25 per cent. were guided towards more resource-intensive care. In other words, when people were told, "Little Johnny has a bit of a fever, but will probably be all right in the morning," no care was provided, whereas arrangements were immediately made for an ambulance to be sent to take people in desperate need of care off to hospital.

The object of the scheme is to provide an additional service which is not available at present. The three pilot schemes clearly showed that lots of people all over the country would not go to accident and emergency, get their doctor out in the middle of the night or ring for an ambulance, but would ring up for advice, reassurance or, in some cases, urgent treatment.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that NHS Direct will not be funded at the expense of other nursing-led activities?

Mr. Dobson

Special funding has been made available this year for the pilot schemes, and will also be made available for the additional schemes that are coming on stream. The scheme has an advantage, which we hope will be put to good use. A substantial number of nurses give up nursing because they have suffered back or other injuries which make it impossible to continue normal nursing. We hope that the idea of using their nursing skills on the end of a telephone will appeal to some of them, and that we will be able to bring their expertise and experience back into the national health service—to their benefit, and the benefit of patients.