Hundreds of jobs could be at risk in the region as health helpline NHS Direct makes changes to its service.
Advice centres at Newcastle and Stockton are among 24 of 30 UK sites public sector union Unison claims are under threat.
Their warning follows the NHS announcement that it intends on converting only six of its centres nationwide to its new NHS 111 service ... leaving the fate of North East centres unclear.
While NHS Direct denies decisions have been made over sites in the region, Unison has criticised the healthy body for “gutting” the service.
Nursing bodies also claim the introduction of NHS 111 will lead to busier hospitals as it won’t deal with mental health, maternity health, or children's advice.
Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive, said: “Unison’s fears that 50% of front-line staff will lose their jobs are unfounded.
“The Department of Health has agreed that NHS Direct’s front-line staff will be offered the opportunity to move into a job providing the new 111 service with other providers (ambulance Trusts and GP out-of-hours organisations) where NHS Direct is not the chosen provider of the 111 service in an area.
“The future of other NHS Direct sites has not been decided.”
Sandra Maxwell, Unison’s convener at NHS Direct, said: “Given that many of these NHS call centres are in areas of high unemployment there are very real fears for the staff’s future job prospects.”
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region’s regional director said: “The public don’t realise that this Government is abolishing NHS Direct.
They may have heard of 111, but they think it is basically a re-branding exercise, and that it will still be NHS Direct on the phone. It will not.
“It’s not simply a change of phone number, the new service from 111 is significantly inferior. The reality is that we are going to see pressure increase on ambulances, A&E wards and GP surgeries, as the nurse-led self- care and telephone advice service is effectively lost.”
Centres in Carlisle, Dudley, Exeter, Milton Keynes and Middlebrook, Bolton, will be used to provide the NHS 111 service, which is used in cases where a patient needs medical help, but it is not a 999 emergency.