Wakefield Express Column

NHS Direct is a fantastic service. When something is wrong in the middle of the night, you can pick up the phone, call 0845 4647 and speak to a nurse. He or she will assess the symptoms and help you decide whether you need to wrap up warm and head out in the night to Pinderfields, or wait till morning to see your own GP.

But have you ever wondered where the person with that calm and reassuring voice on the other end of the phone is? Chances are they will be just around the corner. That’s because on the outskirts of Wakefield, many of the calls made to NHS Direct from across Yorkshire are answered.

Over 250 people work at the centre at the Wakefield 41 business park, almost half of them nurses, and on Friday I paid them a visit to find out more. I listened to the staff answering calls and saw how their advanced technology helps them make a fast and accurate assessment. I also saw how the call centre is using surplus capacity efficiently to provide other services, such as GP out-of-hours contacts.

In coming weeks and months, we will begin to see the impact of massive cuts in funding for our schools, social care and the police. One area the government tell us is protected from cuts is the NHS. But I’m worried that for all the promises, services like NHS Direct are not safe.

There was an outcry from Labour MPs earlier this year when the new coalition government announced they were reconsidering the future of NHS Direct. My colleagues and I vowed to fight any plans to axe this vital service, which is great value for money – the advice they give helps prevent 1.5million unnecessary trips to A&E each year, saving the NHS £200million.

Thankfully the government has backed down and announced that they will replace the service with a new, and more memorable, number – 111. However, it looks likely there will still be an attempt to short change the service with fewer trained nurses

I really hope that doesn’t happen, and I will be keeping a very close eye on what happens next.

The next time one of my kids falls over and bumps their head, or gets spots that look suspiciously like chicken pox, and I want some professional advice, I hope I will still be able to call up and speak to that calm, professional voice just around the corner in Wakefield.

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Posted October 29th, 2010 by Ed's team