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New operator for NHS 111 service in Shropshire

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The troubled NHS 111 service in Shropshire will be run by an organisation based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after West Midlands Ambulance Service lost out on the bid.

Vocare will take over the running of the service in the next few weeks, initially on a temporary basis. A bidding process will then take place for a long-term contract.

The 111 service, which was launched in April 2013 to provide a single number for all non-emergency NHS services, was initially run by NHS Direct.

But a few months later NHS Direct announced it would be pulling out of the contract, which was proving too expensive to fulfil.

It admitted it had encountered "significant problems" and that calls had taken "twice as long as expected".

The ambulance service stepped in and at the moment it handles 111 calls from Shropshire, Herefordshire, Warwickshire, Birmingham, Solihull, the Black Country and Coventry.

Since it took over the running more than one million calls have been made to 111 with the milestone call coming in during the festive period.

However, the ambulance service was told it would not be given a long-term contract to run the service.

Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group, which is responsible for selecting a provider, said it 'did not receive a bid that was acceptable and demonstrated value for money'.

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The group confirmed that Vocare, a not-for-profit organisation which will use the name West Midlands Doctors Urgent Care, would be taking over the service within the next few weeks.

That group already operates a 111 service in other parts of the UK and currently delivers the 111 service in Staffordshire under the Staffordshire Doctors Urgent Care service.

Chief executive of Vocare, John Harrison, said: "We are delighted that we have been chosen as the step-in provider for the NHS 111 service in the West Midlands from September for 12 months. We will be working closely with commissioners and other healthcare providers in the area to further integrate urgent care services."

A date for the transfer of the service between providers has yet to be confirmed.

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The process for choosing a permanent operator begins in October, with commissioners saying they want the service better integrated with the Shropdoc out-of-hours GP service.

NHS 111 clinical director, Dr Jonathan Leach, said: "We want to reassure the public that NHS111 is here to stay in the West Midlands, and that we are committed to growing the service with new innovation and further integration with our out of hours providers to provide a strong service that is available seven days a week on a 24 hour basis to support the urgent care system."

Officials at the ambulance service, which has its headquarters in Brierley Hill,near Dudley, spoke of their disappointment at failing to secure a deal last month.

They said they had brought stability to the NHS 111 service in the wake of the end of the NHS Direct deal.

They also indicated they had invested considerable time in providing additional training to staff to ensure the service operates safely.

The 111 service was introduced to provide a single contact number for both medical advice and the out-of-hours GP service.

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