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Editor's blog Wednesday 20 October 2010: Dorrell quizzes Lansley on NHS Direct / 111 service plans

Former health secretary and health select committee chair Stephen Dorrell MP is doing a very good job.

Andrew 'Liberatin' Lansley must find it a pain.

Dorrell has written to his successor in the job, to the following effect: "In late August and early September there were a number of stories in the news media reporting that the Department of Health was to close NHS Direct and to replace it with a new helpline, NHS 111.

"In view of the considerable interest this has stimulated both inside and outside Parliament, the Committee would be extremely grateful if you could set out the government’s position on this issue, and in particular:
·         How NHS 111 differs from the NHS Direct Helpline
·         Whether the online and other services NHS Direct currently operates will continue in their present form
·         Whether NHS Direct is included in the QIPP programme of efficiency savings and if so what targets it is seeking to achieve
·         What estimate the department has made of the cost savings to the NHS from patients contacting NHS Direct as a first port of call (the NHS Direct Annual Review 2010 says “Our research identifies that we recommend to around 49% of all our callers that they should go to a less urgent and lower cost point of care than they would have gone to if they had not sought our advice.”)
·         Whether it is the intention to staff NHS 111 in a broadly similar way to NHS Direct when it is rolled out across the country (that is, NHS Direct has
around 3,400 staff of whom 1,400 are nurses – is that what NHS 111 will look like?)
·         How long the pilots of NHS 111 will run for, and when the assessment of those pilots will be made available
·         What criteria the pilots will be assessed against
·         Whether a cost benefit analysis of the change to NHS 111 has been carried out, and what were its conclusions

"As this is a matter of considerable interest I would be grateful if you could reply to us by 8 November.".

HPI readers may remember that the fate of NHS Direct and the 11 1 service was the subject of a catfight between Liberatin' Lansley and his Labout shadow Andy Burnham in the late summer.

Timing-wise, this is unlikely to make headlines (or probably even news-in-briefs)  in the better-known media on the day after the CSR. Nonetheless, it is a very positive sign that the health select committee will continue to be a useful player on the health policy scene.

Good work, Mr Dorrell: keep up the troublemaking.