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A cost-minimisation study of 1,001 NHS Direct users

08 Aug 2013

Background:
To determine financial and quality of life impact of patients calling the '0845' NHS Direct (NHS Direct) telephone helpline from the perspective of NHS service providers.
Methods:
Cost-minimisation of repeated cohort measures from a National Survey of NHS Direct's telephone service using telephone survey results. 1,001 people contacting NHS Direct's 0845 telephone service in 2009 who agreed to a 4-6 week follow-up. A cost comparison between NHS Direct recommendation and patient-stated first alternative had NHS Direct not been available. Analysis also considers impact on quality of life of NHS Direct recommendations using the Visual Analogue Scale of the EQ-5D.
Results:
Significant referral pattern differences were observed between NHS Direct recommendation and patient-stated first alternatives (p < 0.001). Per patient cost savings resulted from NHS Direct's recommendation to attend A&E ([pound sign]36.54); GP Practice ([pound sign]19.41); Walk-In Centre ([pound sign]49.85); Pharmacist ([pound sign]25.80); Dentist ([pound sign]2.35) and do nothing/treat at home ([pound sign]19.77), while it was marginally more costly for 999 calls ([pound sign]3.33). Overall an average per patient saving of [pound sign]19.55 was found (a 36% saving compared with patient-stated first alternatives). For 5 million NHS Direct telephone calls per year, this represents an annual cost saving of [pound sign]97,756,013. Significant quality of life differences were observed at baseline and follow-up between those who believed their problem was 'urgent' (p = 0.001) and those who said it was 'non-urgent' (p = 0.045). Whilst both groups improved, self-classified 'urgent' cases made greater health gains than those who said they were 'non-urgent' (urgent by 21.5 points; non-urgent by 16.1 points).
Conclusions:
The '0845' service of NHS Direct produced substantial cost savings in terms of referrals to the other parts of the NHS when compared with patients' own stated first alternative. Health-related quality of life also improved for users of this service demonstrating that these savings can be produced without perceived harm to patients.

Date: 
8 August 2013

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