A new free three-digit number – 111 - making it easier for patients to access non-emergency healthcare wherever they are, 24 hours a day, was given the go ahead by Telecoms regulator Ofcom today.
The new 111 service will effectively assess callers’ needs to ensure they receive the right service, first time. It will route patients to a locally available service or provide appropriate advice and information.
The NHS across England offers a range of options for accessing non-emergency healthcare. Services such as walk-in centres, out-of-hours GP services and minor injuries units mean patients now have more choice than ever before when they need non-emergency healthcare. However, patients are not always sure where to go for treatment when they need medical help - but the situation is not life-threatening - especially when away from home.
When someone calls 111, they will be assessed straight away. If it is an emergency, their call will be immediately passed to the ambulance service who will despatch an ambulance without the need for any further assessment. For minor illnesses and injuries the 111 service will be able to provide immediate clinical advice. Should the caller need to see a GP, they will be referred to the nearest local centre.
The 111 service will be piloted by the local NHS in England in the North East, the East of England and the East Midlands from 2010 to evaluate the benefits to the public and the NHS, before potentially rolling it out nationally.
Health Minister Mike O’Brien said:
“Patients have told us that they need clear, easy advice on how to find healthcare quickly when its less urgent than 999 and I am delighted that Ofcom has allocated 111 for these purposes. Our research with the public showed a strong preference for 111 over any other three-digit numbers because it is easy to remember.
“The NHS has a range of non-emergency healthcare services.
The memorable 111 number will support these services and provide more choice for patients to find the care they need. This will be particularly useful outside of GP surgery hours and for people who are away from home.”
Nick Chapman, Chief Executive of NHS Direct said:
“NHS Direct is looking forward to working with local NHS organisations to pilot the new 111 number. We believe that it will increase the access that patients have to the information and advice they need to help themselves and make best use of the NHS.”
111 will not replace existing local telephone services or NHS Direct but provide patients with an additional choice in how they find non-emergency care. In the long-term, 111 could become the single number to access non-emergency care services in England, including NHS Direct. 999 will remain the number to call in an emergency situation.
The Department of Health is working closely with the NHS to make sure any new number which is introduced complements existing services.
Notes to editors
1. In the final report on his review of the NHS, Lord Darzi recommended that the NHS continue to explore options for a single national three-digit number providing access to advice and information on non-emergency care. For further information on Lord Darzi’s review of the NHS ‘High Quality Care for All’ visit: http://www.ournhs.nhs.uk/
2. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.
3. Under section 63 of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to ensure that the best use is made of the UK’s telephone number resource. Every year Ofcom allocates millions of telephone numbers to communications providers for homes, businesses and organisations to use.
5. Health authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales may consider whether to introduce the 111 service following the outcome of the pilots in England next year.
6. During piloting of the 111 service, NHS Direct will continue to be available on its 0845 46 47 number. However, if the new service proves to be successful, we would expect 111 to become the single telephone access point for a wide range of non-emergency healthcare services, including those provided by NHS Direct.
7. For further background information on 111 visit: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Healthcare/Urgentcare/index.htm
8. For further information please contact
Department of Health press office: 020 7210 5221
Ofcom press office: Elizabeth de Winton 0300 123 4000 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department