NHS Direct shelves foundation trust plans

NHS Direct has put its plans to become a foundation trust on ice. The decision follows government reluctance to free the national service from central control.

The Department of Health feels it needs to be able to call on NHS Direct as an emergency hotline in the event of a terrorist attack or other national incident.

NHS Direct was used as the national hotline for people worried about radiation contamination following the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006.

A statement from NHS Direct said: “It has become clear that the organisation’s role, particularly around major incidents, is of strategic national importance. This has led to the Department of Health agreeing with NHS Direct that the traditional model of foundation trust may not be the most appropriate at the moment, given that one of the organisation’s strengths is its national operating model.”

NHS Direct is also seen as a prime contender to run the three digit non emergency phone number recommended by health minister Lord Darzi to direct people to appropriate services.

Around 16,000 people have signed up as “members” of NHS Direct in anticipation of it gaining foundation trust status.

NHS Direct chief executive Matt Tee told HSJ: “I’m slightly disappointed. The Department of Health has said that the arm’s length aspect of foundation status will not work because we are nationally important. We wanted to be a foundation trust as a kind of ‘badge’ that shows that we are a high-performing organisation, but there is the chance that we can get certain freedoms without needing to have foundation status.”

The labour government has previously said that psychiatric hospitals at Rampton, Ashworth and Broadmoor will also not be granted foundation status. Ministers want to hold sway over decisions relating to high-profile criminals.

A DH spokesman said: “NHS Direct, as recognised recently by the Healthcare Commission, provides a popular and important service to patients, undertaking millions of consultations each year. It will have a key part to play in supporting implementation of the next stage review.”

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