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28 September 2011, 16:31
An NHS call centre is Chelmsford is one of three to close.
It could lead to the loss of 100 jobs, a leading union has said.
Unison said it had been told by managers at NHS Direct that centres at Ipswich, Norwich and Chelmsford will close. Most of the jobs will be among qualified nurses, it added.
Dave Prentis, Unison's general secretary, said: "This is a disaster for patients and staff and we are really worried that this is the thin end of the wedge. Although these cuts hit local areas, the knock-on effect will be felt across the country.
"NHS Direct staff are already pressed to breaking point during peak periods, when the call centres can deal with up to 30,000 calls a day. Less people on the phones will mean patients depending heavily on out of hours duty care and a rise in the numbers queuing at A&E.
"NHS Direct nurses will also struggle to find work elsewhere, with jobs being axed in the NHS.
"We call upon local MPs in the East Anglian towns affected to join us in urging the East of England Health Authority to reconsider its decision, as a matter of urgency. The Government must guarantee contracts for NHS Direct and the 111 emergency service, rather than rush through plans that will have huge consequences.''
Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said: "Our landlord has given us notice on the contact centre space we occupy at our Chelmsford and Norwich sites, and we regretfully have no option but to close these sites in the coming 12 months.
"This has implications for the contact centre in Ipswich, which is heavily supported by these two sites.
"There is much work we need to do to understand the full implications of these closures before a final plan can be agreed by the Trust Board. Every option will be explored to redeploy those staff affected.
"We already have over 100 members of staff currently working from home permanently and there are sites in surrounding areas. No decision has been made to make staff redundant at this time.''
The number of staff affected is 77 in Chelmsford, 27 in Norwich and 16 in Ipswich.