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New '111' number to transform out-of-hours care

By Ashleigh Goff

Plans for a single new number for non-emergency urgent care which could handle as many as 30 million calls a year were published today.

Ofcom has launched a consultation at the Department of Health's request on the new ‘111' number, which will be piloted from next Spring in a number of SHAs ahead of a rollout across England.

Health departments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to decide separately whether to introduce the number.

The new number is intended for people with urgent but not life-threatening health problems. The Department of Health hopes the new number will be easy to remember and reduce confusion on who patients should call in urgent situations.

999 or 112 will continue to be the numbers for emergency calls.

Ofcom also set out a range of pricing option for calls to the ‘111' number, which include making the calls free, charging 10p per call, 3p per minute or local or national rates.

Currently NHS Direct receives around 5 million calls a year, while GP out-of-hours services take a further 9 million. Combined with calls to other urgent care services, the Department of Health estimate ‘there there could be between 14.4m and 30m calls per annum to the three-digit number in England.'

Dr David Lloyd, medical director of out-of-hours provider Harmoni, told Pulse he welcomed the move.

‘It's very exciting that this is finally happening after being talked about for years,' he said. ‘Hopefully it will make things easier. The sooner we integrate urgent care the better – patients are too confused about who to call.'

The closing date for responses to the consultation is 20 August.

The Department of Health hopes the new three-digit number will transform urgent care The Department of Health hopes the new three-digit number will transform urgent care

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