HEALTH workers in East Lancashire could lose their jobs as a result of plans to scrap the medical helpline NHS Direct.

NHS Direct confirmed that centres in Carlisle, Dudley, Exeter, Milton Keynes and Middlebrook in Bolton, will be used to provide the replacement NHS 111 service,.

But the future of 25 other sites, including one based at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, is uncertain. It is thought 12 people work at the Blackburn centre.

Sandra Maxwell, Unison's convenor at NHS Direct, said: "Hundreds of dedicated nursing and NHS professionals are to be made redundant at a huge cost, when their skills could be used within the new NHS111 service if only the Department of Health took some decisive action."

National officer Michael Walker said: "The Secretary of State for Health should step in and stop this disaster immediately. We need action and we need it now.

"Axing dedicated hard-working nurses is never a good idea at any time, but this will directly impact on patient care. There is no doubt that patients will suffer as a result of this move."

Nick Chapman, NHS Direct chief executive, said: "We have not confirmed that any sites are closing. At this stage we have confirmed which sites we will be keeping open to deliver NHS 111 in the areas where we have been commissioned to provide the service.”

He said: “Home working will be an option for some of our nurses as an alternative to working from a site.

"The future of other NHS Direct sites has not been decided. We are in discussion with the Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board about the future of other non-111 services that we could be asked to deliver before making decisions."

Every year, NHS Direct answers 4.2 million calls for health advice and information for patients in England.

Healthcare professionals, nurses, and dental advisers give expert information and advice over the phone and are available 365 days a year.

The new phone number is intended to work in a 'more efficient' and integrated way with local GPs, ambulance services and hospitals, providing health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24 hour chemists.