back to article Life support turned off: NHS Direct dies silent, undignified death

NHS Direct is dead and England's health service was hoping few people would notice that it had moved the kill date forward five days for its "financially unsustainable" advice website. The 15-year-old service was supposed to limp on until the end of this month, but the NHS pulled the plug early. As of Wednesday morning, …


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  1. James 51

    There's a need for an informative but calm and measured on-line advice website. If used properly could help cut down on visits to GP. I know they need to claw money back from somewhere to pay for their mistakes but it will be interesting to see if this drives up costs elsewhere.

    1. Amorous Cowherder

      I don't know it's always a laugh trying to get an appointment ( usually a 2 week wait ) and then telling your GP you looked up your symptoms on the NHS website, then watching him roll his eyes and tut at me!

      1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        My GP actually said that NHS Direct was a bit of a double edged sword.. He said it gave good information that was certainly good enough for people to help themselves, but it also gave ideas to hypochondriacs.

      2. Nigel 11

        If you really want to wind up a doc, tell him that you've been researching your symptoms on USA medical websites! (Especially, the "alternative" ones).

        I guess we now find out hw many extra visits GPs have to handle because people can't just get the info they need off the web. (Well, they still can, but not from the NHS, and most of the rest is intended to encourage you to visit your doctor in countries where you have to pay to see your doctor)

    2. dogged

      4chan. Send everyone to 4chan and we will soon know that all symptoms can only indicate AIDS and ebola.

      1. tony2heads


        anyone going there for medical advice is already brain dead

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Smear test information can be found in /b/.

  2. RonWheeler

    Plenty of free advice sites

    WebMD etc - never saw the need for NHS website.

    Much better is stuff like being able to book appointments, get repeat prescriptions etc online, which our local GP's place have started doing in the past few months. Actually some real tangible usefulness.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: webmd

      having just glanced at the webMD site, it looks mostly like a magazine trying to sell me stuff; rather than a reputable online or phone-based heathcare service aimed at helping the general public. Maybe this is an misleading impression, but it's one that rather concerns me; I suppose it mostly relates to webMD being a commercial operation (I assume) rather than a public service.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Plenty of free advice sites

      Well, I just glanced at the WebMD website (partnered by Boots...draw your own conclusions)

      and on particular aspect (that I am qualified to express an opinion on) of a subject, the WebMD site is misleading and inferior to the NHS Choices text. Fortunately its not an aspect that affects patient health, but only their understanding.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Plenty of free advice sites

        Well, I just glanced at the WebMD website (partnered by Boots...draw your own conclusions)

        Does it offer homeopathy?

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      WebMD is not a public service medical site

      It was founded by a computer scientist, not a doctor. It is not governed by doctors and no doctor has vouched for its content.

      It has apparently been accredited by some healthcare organization, but the credibility of said accreditation is in doubt.

      In short, WebMD is certainly a good idea, and probably contains reliable information for many cases, but I wouldn't trust my cancer diagnostic to it, much less my treatment (not that I have cancer, that's just an example).

      Get WebMD under the wing of a truly certified medical body and then we can start using it in confidence. Until then, I'll just keep using it for general queries.

      Oh, and just for the principle of it I will certainly not create a medical profile on a US site.

  3. Ted Treen


    "...NHS Direct dies silent, undignified death,,,"

    As did some of those who put their faith in the service.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Fitting.

      It was a nice idea, but would almost invariably advise the user to contact a health professional, as it had to err on the side of caution. Told me I was having a heart attack, once (I had cold).

  4. Dave Schofield

    Sad Day

    Worked for NHS Direct for about 6 years until cost cutting closed one of the DCs down and redundancy called. It might have had its faults, but at its peak it was a good service used by lots of people who would otherwise have gone to their GPs or A&E.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sad Day

      Indeed - I never used it that much, but it was helpful on those occasions. A bit like the NHS as a whole, really.

    2. sad_loser

      Happy day

      DH did studies to look at the effect on Emergency Department attendance as a result of putting in NHS Direct.

      It doesn't prevent people coming at all and if anything NHSD just trained patients to come straight to the hospitals because that is where the doctors are - they don't get dicked around on a phone for 2 hours and then told to come to hospital anyway.

      When people are ill, they want someone else to take responsibility for managing their condition - they don't really want advice, and if they did then they have wikipedia. But most of the time people just think "I don't get a website to manage my plumbing, I get a plumber - someone who actually knows what they are talking about" why would your illness be any different?

      So I am afraid you wasted 6 years of your life. sorry. that is why they shut it - it is expensive and it doesn't work. Now we have 111 which is cheaper and guess what? it doesn't work either.

      1. Firefox

        Re: Happy day

        I have to disagree - not that I know who DH is, but I can't see how it could possibly fail to reduce numbers attending whatever an "Emergency Department" is (isn't it called A&E? Emergency Department sounds American). People generally don't know how to ask the right questions or draw the right conclusions from the answers they get - and other people want you to draw a specific conclusion so represent results in a way that favour their opinion.

        Maybe NHS Direct was indented to reduce calls to GPs - not the same as reducing visits to A&E.

        Aren't you generalising by saying "Hospitals - that's where the doctors are" - I'd guess there are more GPs in local surgeries where I live than in the local hospital.

        When I;m ill I don't want someone to take responsibility - I want to know what's wrong with me, and how to fix it - so yes, I really want advice...and a doctor could give me that, but so could a website.

        I agree that I don't get a website to manage my plumbing - but I get a website to help me work out where the problem is, and another to order the parts, and then I fix it myself - I have never used a plumber and I'm 46.

        ...I rarely go to the hospital too, and that's partly because I get dicked around whether I go to hospital or go to the GP - and advice sites such as NHS Direct (and the phone lines) were useful in avoiding unnecessary visits.

        What's a real tragedy is that the system is up, the costs of leaving it there must be minimal - all that investment pissed away. there's a common problem that really needs looking into.

      2. Soruk
        Thumb Up

        Re: Happy day

        > Now we have 111 which is cheaper and guess what? it doesn't work either.

        I have first-hand evidence that 111 in North Hampshire works very well - an example they should be proud of.

        (For the avoidance of doubt, my tongue is nowhere near my cheek.)

      3. Cucumber C Face

        Re: Happy day

        Save your breath Mr sad-loser. The NHS is a national religion and any service which expands the ranks of the worried well merely increases the intensity of worship.

  5. Sandpit

    Used to be a lot better than 111

    111 justs asked a lot of questions before wanting to send an ambulance out. Last year I broke a tooth so rang to get hold of an emergency dentist. I had to formally decline, against their advice, the ambulance they wanted to send to take me to A&E because I had sustained a head injury.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      That certainly explains some of the "spiralling" costs.

      1. dogged

        They never say which direction the costs are spiralling in, do they?

        Personally I solved all this nonsense by moving in with a doctor. The only trouble is that every tiny inconvenience that I'd ignore gets treated like a symptom of something more major.

        They're only headaches....

  6. Perpetual Cyclist

    NHS Direct once told me to go direct to casualty, who sent me home.

    5 days later I was back in casualty and admitted for emergency operation...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I would trust NHS Direct

      More than the english as a fifteenth language staff at A and E in the Whittington, north London

  7. David Pollard

    Shut down quack medicine too

    My own experience with NHS Direct was a bit dismal, so I won't mourn its closure. It's a pity though that a whole host of bogus and quack medicine sites can't be closed as well.

  8. bigtimehustler

    Doctors always seem to roll their eyes if you say you have looked out symptoms on such a website, either the NHS one or any others, and yet to be honest, pretty much every time the self diagnosis has been correct and I cant count how many times the GP has got a book on symptoms out and checked, not much difference between him checking a book and me checking a website. For all the run of the mill issues, a GP may as well just sign a prescription after you tell him what you have already diagnosed you have. For more complicated issues and edge cases, sure it makes sense he checks you, but most of these edge cases are only found after the most likely treatment has been tried and you have gone back a second time anyway.

  9. Chris 3

    iI found it useful

    When we had our first sprog, she had a number of illnesses and I have to say that NHS was remarkably helpful at 3am giving good pragmatic advice about whether to take her into A&E or wait until morning.

    Sad to see it go.

  10. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Funny thing,

    In the last week or so I've been getting noticeably more spam past the filter, including a lot from, or in honour of, one or more online pharmacies. Also they want to be my friend, which is flattering, unless they mean to "Like" them on Facebook.

  11. Hadrian

    Quack quack

    Where will the quack medicine websites now go to steal their content?

    I'm not sure I'll miss it much. Every time I used it, it took me through x hundred multiple choice questions and the last page was "Dial 999 immediately".

    I'm still alive.

  12. Scroticus Canis

    It's just another victim of the Liverpool Pathway

    ..died before its due time. Starved (of funds) and dehydrated (lack of electrical juice) the new NHS speciality treatment. Unlike the real EOL patients at least it didn't suffer.

  13. BongoJoe


    NHS Direct is dead and England's health service was hoping few people...

    So, in order to save money have they already closed down the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

  14. browntomatoes

    I miss the phone service, the website not so much

    The NHS direct phone service was MUCH better than 111. The two times I've called 111, they spent 15 minutes asking me to spell my address and tell them who my GP is etc etc etc before even asking why I was calling. They then went through what was very obviously a script the computer was prompting them to do and appeared to have zero medical knowledge (despite apparently being "staffed by nurses"). Now we just call the out of hours GP directly instead who will do a telephone consultation in half the time.

    However, BOTH websites are/were useless. The online symptom checker seems to have one answer whatever you do which is "call your GP" (unless you tell it something like you accidentally cut your own head off in which case it says dial 999).

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