An ICB in the West Midlands have agreed to defer the transfer of the NHS 111 contract over concerns the shift could disrupt patient care during the winter.
Initially due to come into effect from 25 October, the new provider will instead pick up the contract from March 2023 to ensure ‘patients are unaffected by the change in provider during the busy winter period’, Black Country ICB has said.
The Board and the current and new providers agreed to delay the transition to ensure the service is ‘at its strongest’ over the winter, considering the risk of a further wave of Covid-19.
The ICB said key factors behind the deferral included the risk of another Covid wave putting additional pressure on the 111 services right after the transition period, and ensuring enough staff were fully trained at the start of the contract.
It was first announced in July that the current provider – West Midlands Ambulance Service – would step back from the contract, with DHU Healthcare set to take over.
DHU Healthcare currently operate 11 in the East Midlands, which the ICB said would mark a ‘move towards closer working between the NHS111 service across the East and West Midlands’.
Mark Axcell, chief executive of the Black Country ICB, said: ‘It was always going to be a tight deadline and due to a number of factors, some of which were outside the control of all three organisations, we now plan to make the change after the key winter period.’
He added: ‘However, we do recognise that this delay may feel unsettling for WMAS staff. We will now do all we can to support those staff affected to ensure they understand that the situation remains the same; all staff will continue to have security of employment with current terms and conditions maintained.’