Patients have been promised faster response times and quicker examinations following the takeover of three key NHS services.

Last week the West Essex NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - which plans and commissions health care services in the area - awarded an integrated care service contract to Herts Urgent Care (HUC).

Starting on 1 April next year, HUC will run NHS111, GP Out of Hours and GP extended access services in evenings and on weekends.

It is the first time one company has run all of the services, which are currently operated by three separate organisations.

Patients will now be able to speak directly to a GP, nurse, pharmacist of paramedic as part of the new way NHS111 will be run.

It is hoped this will reduced pressure on A&E.

Andrew Geldard, CCG chief officer, said: “This is a completely new approach, bringing together three separate services for the benefit of patients.

"It will be planned around the needs of patients, giving them faster and seamless access to expert care and advice when they need it,” said

“The new IUC service will be supported by additional clinicians to give patients an immediate assessment of their problem and ensure they get the right help or treatment as quickly as possible.

"This includes advice for self-care, making a direct booking with a GP in the out of hours or extended access service, community health service, and electronic prescriptions."

The CCG claims the new arranged would lead to "faster response times and clinical assessments."

HUC is a social enterprise CIC, which means it is set up to benefit the community rather than shareholders.

Its CEO David Archer said: “As the first IUC provider in the country to establish a GP led 24/7 multi disciplinary clinical telephone assessment service we have seen an improvement in patient experience and the reduction of unnecessary demands of A&E and ambulance services.

"We currently provide IUC services in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Luton & Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

"We are looking forward to actively participating in the development and implementation of the shared strategy of integrated delivery of care in West Essex and working with all relevant professional teams, organisations and trusts within the west Essex health and social care system."

NHS West Essex CCG serves 315,000 people in Epping Forest, Harlow and Uttlesford and has an annual budget of more than £442m for 2018/19.