Thousands of public sector staff will be seconded to the Department of Health (DoH) to help cope with the swine flu outbreak, the government is expected to announce next week.
The extra staff will be mostly call centre workers needed to run the new National Pandemic Flu Service which the DoH hopes will go live from the end of next week.
A spokeswoman for the public sector union Unison told Personnel Today: “The Department of Health has confirmed that it’s going to supply extra staff to deal with the huge numbers of calls to NHS direct.
“I think it will go into more than a couple of thousand people. They will probably be seconded from elsewhere in the public sector, maybe from the DVLA.”
She added staff at the DVLA already run a call centre so could be quickly trained up to deal with the new hotline.
The National Pandemic Flu Service will enable people with flu symptoms to call a hotline and receive an identification number which will allow them to collect Tamiflu medication.
A spokeswoman for the DoH confirmed an announcement would be made next week about the number of extra people to be brought in to the department.
The spokeswoman could not confirm the number of staff to be moved or where they would come from. She said: “When the service starts there will be 1,500 people answering calls at any one time, but this does not necessarily mean 1,500 people will be brought in.”
The move is designed to free up NHS Direct staff who are currently receiving 93,000 calls a day – an increase of more than 86,000.
NHS Direct currently employs 3,500 people, and at any one time there are 300 nurse and health advisers on duty.