Axa Assistance, the US-based assistance general arm of the AXA group, has clinched a seven-year contract worth £68m with NHS Direct, the nurse -led telephone helpline.

Axa Assistance will be the sole provider of a National Clinical Decision Support System.

It will implement, maintain and assist the computer support system.

The contract was won after a six-month tendering process involving the US-based hospital supplier HBOC and UK-based TAS.

Spokesman John Stevens said its system will meet the challenges facing healthcare agencies today – “increased utilisation and heightened customer expectations” – and should be able to replace managed care.

He says its computer support system will be especially attractive to private health insurers, as it directs individuals to the right hospital.

Although he concedes that there are no concrete projects yet, Stevens said: “Large health insurers have begun to look at our system – there has already been an impact on private insurers outside the UK.

Axa Assistance has already built up expertise over 20 years of managing medical situations and emergencies through its operational presence in 37 countries.

For this project it brought together a specialist unit covering various disciplines including call centre software, and medical triage development.