NHS 111 Single Virtual Contact Centre: Maximising the benefits of NHS England's innovative transformation

The new national ambition for a Single Virtual Contact Centre, supporting new NHSE policy, offers significant benefits for patients and commissioners. With this change, comes considerations to ensure the opportunities are maximised for Commissioners and Providers

111 is the 24-hour non-emergency medical NHS helpline operating in England, Scotland and Wales, allowing patients to access health services when they have an urgent need.

Currently, 111 calls are directed to the local contact centre, which are operated by different Providers. Different local Providers mean that wait times can vary considerably, depending on demand and capacity. In October 2021, 49.6% of calls were answered within 60 seconds in London in comparison to 15.1% in the North East and Yorkshire1. The graph below shows the call abandonment rate across England in the same month.

Figure 1: Percentage of calls received by NHS 111 that were abandoned by region (October 2021)


Source: Aggregated IUC ADC Provisional Statistics October 2021

To ensure IUC services are aligned to and meet the requirements of today’s commissioning landscape, in October 2021 the draft Integrated Urgent Care Commissioning Framework  was published. This new framework aims to ensure the future sustainability of IUC; maximising opportunities for economies of scale, including achieving greater efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and resilience.

To underpin this critical strategic move, a new gold-standard 111 call-handling platform is being mobilised across England to provide a Single Virtual Contact Centre (SVCC), enabling ‘next available agent’ call routing at scale. This new model of delivery for 111 aims to increase national call-handling performance and reduce the significant local variations in call answering time.

The introduction of the SVCC will bring significant improvements to the IUC landscape in England, and with that comes change for both Commissioners and Providers.

Moorhouse are exploring the opportunities presented by the changes facing Commissioners and Providers following the announcement of the new SVCC platform. In this perspective, we will outline how ICS Commissioners can capitalise on the opportunities of the new SVCC platform.

There are undoubtable benefits of moving to a Single Virtual Contact Centre model, and we see three main changes to be worked through for Commissioners:

1. The Local Pathway Opportunity

The new Draft IUC Commissioning Framework aims to ensure that that commissioning & service provision are aligned and complement the direction of Integrated Care Systems. This includes ‘call handling at scale’ to maximise efficiencies, balanced with the ability to work effectively with local Clinical Assessment Services (CAS).

For ICS commissioners, retaining locally-agreed specialised patient pathways in the new model, will be critical to maximise the benefits of the new call-handling platform and ensure any patient groups are not at a disadvantage. Across England, local Commissioning teams have invested time and effort into developing specialised pathways to drive patient improvement, which would not want to be lost.

The opportunity for ICS’s

To ensure that technical and reporting requirements are ‘re-plumbed’ into the new platform, ICSs should develop a clear summary of their current specialised pathways.

Consequently, there is a significant opportunity for ICS teams to re-evaluate their current local pathways and consider where additional innovative ideas from other regions can be rapidly incorporated, to further enhance patient experience in their local region. In addition, this is a great opportunity to accelerate the implementation of other new local pathways currently in development.

2. The Contract Management Opportunity

The second opportunity from a commissioner’s perspective is how to maximise the benefits of contract management, compliance and control in the new world.

Just as the current landscape for 111 provision in England varies between regions, ranging from a single Provider covering a single region, to complex multi-Provider landscapes, so too does the commissioning of 111 services between Providers, with differing payment mechanisms and Key Performance Indicators.

The draft IUC Commissioning Framework indicates that call handling should be delivered on a regional footprint, and contractual arrangements should reflect that 111 Providers need to work together to deliver call handling at this scale.

The new model would mean a move to regional KPIs for call answering and alignment of payment schedules, reducing variation and supporting a fair payment rate. Consequently, when the SVCC is in place at either a regional or national level, the Call Abandonment and Call Answering Rates will automatically become an average, meaning Commissioners will move to new ways of managing contracts, potentially including shift fill rates against planned rota requirements.

The opportunity for ICS’s

With the change in how KPIs are measured, there is an opportunity for ICSs to collaborate with other commissioning colleagues within the region and for other ICSs to work out what best practice looks like within the new model, in order to define and measure new success criteria.

3. The Investment in Retention Opportunity

The third theme explored in this perspective is around the investment opportunities of the move to the new platform.

Whilst there may be short-term increases in funding requirements, for example where multiple providers operate within a single ICS, as the ‘Cost Per Call’ may be standardised across regions and aligned to the highest cost, in the medium-to-long run the Single Virtual Contact Centre offers the potential for financial efficiencies.

The opportunity for ICS’s

If ICS’s move towards a model of performance management focused on staff retention, this provides an incentive for Providers to invest in their staff for the long term. In particular, an increased focus on staff retention rates has the opportunity to transform staff satisfaction, as focus will be placed on ensuring staff are happy and motivated in their roles. As a result, Average Handling Time may be improved, as Call Handlers can be supported to become more experienced and confident in their roles.

Realising the benefits from a Single Virtual Contact Centre

The successful implementation of this change across the country will require a strong Programme Management team with the capacity and subject matter knowledge to capitalise on the opportunities outlined above and rapidly realise the benefits for the public of the Single Virtual Contact Centre.

1 Aggregated IUC ADC Provisional Statistics October 2021

For more information on how commissioners or providers could make the most from the SVCC, please reach out to Martin Murphy or Hetty White

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For more information please email info@moorhouseconsulting.com


Martin has over six years’ experience in project and programme management (PPM).

Martin Murphy Principal

Hetty is an experienced Senior Consultant, with strong capabilities in planning and designing key elements of corporate strategy.

Hetty White Senior Consultant