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The Salvadore Vol 265 No 7124p775
November 25, 2000 News

Safeway pharmacies distribute NHS Direct guide as service covers England

Pharmacies within 88 branches of Safeway Stores Plc are to distribute copies of the NHS Direct health care guide free of charge over the next month.
The guide covers the most common inquiries to the NHS Direct telephone helpline (PJ, December 11, 1999, p930). It was previously available at a cost of £1.99. Safeway has 546,000 copies of the guide which it will be giving away on request from its in-store pharmacies in England over a four-week period. To launch the initiative the Minister for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart) spent around an hour-and-a-half at Safeway's Camden branch in London on November 20.
Ms Stuart's visit was part of what the Department of Health called "NHS Direct day", marking the completion of NHS Direct coverage throughout England. On the same day, the Secretary of State for Health published an NHS Direct prospectus reviewing the service's development and looking at its future role in the National Health Service.
The prospectus reveals that NHS Direct is currently handling around 60,000 calls a week (equivalent to around 3m calls a year). This is expected to rise to around 100,000 calls a week by Christmas as the Department's "Get the right treatment" winter advertising campaign takes effect. The campaign started on November 20 with press and radio advertisements. A trial television advertising campaign is to be shown in south west England.
Looking ahead, the prospectus says that NHS Direct is expected to take on a greater role in integrating out-of-hours care for general medical services. Pilot trials are also being held for assessing in-hours calls to general medical practitioners' surgeries. Next year, a trial is to be held of NHS Direct handling low priority or category C ambulance calls. Call volumes are predicted to rise to between 15 and 20m calls a year in 2003-04.
The British Medical Association has expressed concern about the extension of the NHS Direct service and has asked whether the service will be able to cope with an increase in demand. Dr John Chisholm (chairman, general practitioners committee, BMA) said on November 20 that GPs in England dealt with around 1m patients per day. He said that doctors wanted to see an evaluation of the effect that NHS Direct was having on the workload of GPs and accident and emergency departments.
The NHS Direct prospectus repeats the commitment to having the referral of callers to community pharmacies as the fourth disposition available to NHS Direct nurses by 2002. It adds: "As technology develops, for example, NHS Direct could assume an important role in e-pharmcy, arranging for people to access web-based prescription services more easily."

Citation: The Salvadore URI: 20003641

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