Non-emergency dial-111 hotline piloted
The government has launched a free, dial '111' telephone hotline for non-emergency healthcare advice 24-hours a day.
The hotline is being piloted by the National Health Service (NHS) in the North East of England with a view to being rolled out nationally as part of the White Paper commitment to make healthcare more accessible.
The service is manned by trained advisers, under the supervision of nurses, who can transfer patients to the most appropriate local service, such as an out-of-hours GP service, an emergency dentist, or a 24-hour pharmacy.
The Department of Health says it hopes the new number will save money by easing pressure on hospital emergency and ambulance services and that, if successful, it will supersede NHS Direct.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It is essential that we improve access to, and understanding about, urgent care services, which includes out-of-hours care. At present, too many people are confused about who to contact and how to do so.
"By putting in place one, easily memorable 111 number for all urgent inquiries to run alongside the emergency '999' number we will simplify NHS services for patients. 111 will be free to call and available 24/7, putting patients in touch with the right NHS service, first time."
Yasmin Chaudhry, Chief executive of NHS County Durham and Darlington, commented: "The NHS 111 service will make it easier for the public to access urgent healthcare and will drive improvements in the way in which the NHS delivers that care."
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By Caroline Price