Health Secretary Andrew Lansley appears to have changed his mind about scrapping health information service NHS Direct, claiming he only ever intended to phase out its telephone number.
Last month the Department of Health released statements to the media saying the service would be scrapped.
Former health secretary Andy Burnham, a candidate in the Labour leadership contest, said Mr Lansley is “rowing back” from his past statements.
But many of NHS Direct’s services “may be subsumed” by a new 111 telephone service for non-urgent medical queries. Around 16,000 people have signed a petition demanding that NHS Direct is saved.
The service provides health advice and details of out-of-hours GPs, dentists and chemists, as well as information on walk-in health centres.
In response to Mr Burnham’s questions about the future of the service, Mr Lansley wrote: “I have not announced plans to scrap NHS Direct. I have announced plans to phase out the NHS Direct number.”
And he insisted the government has “not announced the closure of NHS Direct”.
He wrote: “I am aware that some people are claiming, incorrectly, that NHS Direct is to be shut down.”
On Thursday Mr Burnham said: “Mr Lansley’s own department confirmed to the BBC that it was planning to scrap NHS Direct. He now says all he wants to change is the phone number. NHS Direct is a much-valued service that saves the NHS money.
“This is a welcome climbdown and great news for the staff who work for NHS Direct and all of us who rely on it. It’s an incredible victory for the campaign to save NHS Direct.
“I hope Mr Lansley will learn a hard lesson from this: making casual, off-the-cuff comments about services that people rely on is no way to run the NHS.”
NHS Direct is used by an average 27,000 people every day.
The 111 phone service is being trialled in the North East.
Last month the Royal College of Nursing said it would be “short-sighted” if the government got rid of specialist nurses who have helped save the health service at least £200m by providing advice on the phone.
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