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Government launches pilots of 111 number for urgent care

By Gareth Iacobucci

Three SHAs are to pilot the use of a new 111 telephone number for non-emergency urgent care from early next year, in a move which could transform GP out-of-hours care.

Patients will be able to dial the number for free to access help 24 hours a day, seven days a week for cases that do not require 999.

The plans – given the go-ahead by Ofcom following a consultation on the issue - are likely to have a major impact on GP out-of-hours care, with the new number expected to eventually be used for as many as 30 million calls a year.

Under the proposals, clinically-trained staff will be charged with assessing people immediately, and passing the call directly to the ambulance service in an emergency.

The line could field calls on access to GP or dental care out-of-hours, help with locating a new dentist, or asking for advice currently provided by NHS Direct.

Launching the pilots - which will run in the North East, the East of England and the East Midlands from next year - 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.'

‘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.'

Dr Ruth Livingstone, a GP from Stamford and regional clinical lead for the programme in the East Midlands - where it will be pilotted in Lincolnshire and Nottingham City - said: 'We want to make it easier for people to access the right help at the right time and that means knowing exactly what is available, where and when and being able to refer patients into the most appropriate service.

'We are already doing a lot to help emergency, hospital, community and GP services work better together to achieve this. Having an easy to remember phone number for the public is the final piece in the jigsaw.'

Rick Stern, Urgent Care Lead at NHS Alliance, welcomed the chance to work with the pilot sites, but warned: 'It will be vital that members of the public know when to call 111 rather than other services. We need to ensure that most people continue to contact the single biggest provider of urgent care, their local GP practices, which offer up to a 100 million same day contacts across England every year, rather than thinking they should call 111 instead.'

A new 111 line could transform out-of-hours care

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