NHS Direct seeks ‘user experience testing’ as helpline scrapped

NHS Direct has announced it is looking for suppliers to test web and mobile user experience, as the government said that England’s health advice phone line is being scrapped.

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NHS Direct has announced it is looking for suppliers to test web and mobile user experience, as the government said that England’s health advice phone line is being scrapped.

A new 111 number will be introduced nationally by April 2013, with the aim of making the phone service more effective and cheaper to run. That service is now being piloted in the North-East. But it is not yet clear for how long the NHS Direct digital channels will remain and whether different 111-related channels will be created.

One thing that is known is that 111 will work on the NHS Pathways software, already used in the pilot area to direct callers to appropriate care and to cut the number of unnecessary ambulance callouts. It is based on FileMaker databases and Microsoft Visio diagram software, and was developed by a small team of nurses, doctors and IT professionals.

News of the end of the NHS Direct phone line was announced on Saturday by health secretary Andrew Lansley. But NHS Direct also issued a contract notice, looking for suppliers to provide user experience testing for digital channels.

Under the contract notice, the NHS is seeking a four year framework agreement with a single supplier, catering for a maximum of £300,000 to £400,000 worth of services. The supplier will test digital channels, including the web, mobile phones and ipTV, and will be required to work using PRINCE2 project management methodology.

Four in 10 of the NHS Direct’s 3,000 staff are trained nurses, the BBC reported. Critics of the change have said the new service could mean patients receive less helpful answers from less experienced staff.

A spokesperson at the Department of Health did not confirm the long term future of the website but said the NHS would consult on how people access online information. The spokesperson added: "In the meantime, NHS Direct web and telephone services, including its online health and symptom checkers, continue to play an important role in providing health information and advice remotely to patients."

"It is still important to get feedback on the services and to ensure that these are easy to use and working well for patients. Any lessons learnt from usability testing will be useful for the 111 service as well."

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