HUNDREDS of members of staff at a failed provider to the troubled NHS 111 helpline have been told that they face losing their jobs.
The 111 service was thrown into turmoil last July after NHS Direct announced it was planning to pull out of its contracts due to severe financial problems.
In October, the organisation announced that it is to close after projecting a £26m deficit for this financial year.
A spokeswoman said: "NHS Direct has today written to around 500 employees, including around 140 nurses, giving them formal notice that they are at risk of redundancy at the end of March.
"The final number of redundancies is likely to be less than this, since we are seeking to mitigate as many redundancies as possible by supporting these staff to find alternative employment within the wider NHS.
"At this stage we do not know what the final number of redundancies will be as it is dependent on several factors including the number of at risk staff who obtain suitable alternative employment elsewhere."
The spokeswoman said that most staff facing redundancy are not currently working on the 111 service and added that the largest group at risk of losing their jobs were back office staff.
NHS Direct currently employs 700 workers, with 200 already set to avoid being made redundant by NHS Direct by being transferred to patient service jobs with other providers.
The 111 line, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, has been riddled with controversy since its inception on April 1 last year.
It suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.
Just a month after its launch, leading medics warned that the problematic roll-out of the system left many patients not knowing where to turn.
And NHS England was forced to launch an investigation into the advice line after a number of potentially serious incidents, including three deaths, were linked to the service.
NHS Direct originally won 11 of the 46 contracts across England to provide the 111 service.
But in July last year, it announced it would be unable to provide the service in North Essex, Cornwall, Somerset, Buckinghamshire, east London and the City, south east London, Sutton and Merton, West Midlands, Lancashire and Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire.
The cost of re-tendering the contracts for the non-emergency telephone service is likely to cost the health service millions of pounds, according to a British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigation.
Commenting on today's announcement, Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), claimed that 158 nursing staff at NHS Direct would lose their jobs.
He said: "This is sad news indeed for the individuals affected, and could to lead to patients seeing their NHS 111 service stretched even further.
"After the dismantling of NHS Direct, weve been left with a fragmented, localised NHS 111 service that offers uncertainty and inconsistency across many parts of the country.
"Soon were going to lose another 158 skilled nursing staff from a system that is already struggling to cope.
"What we need to see is investment into the service to get it up to standard and retain skilled nursing staff, not let them go.
"The RCN will continue to engage with providers to ensure that NHS 111 improves as a service.
"NHS Direct was a clinically-led national service copied across the world, and we believe that NHS patients deserve these standards of care from properly-trained nursing staff."