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111 is new national number for non-emergency healthcare

A new free three-digit number making it easier for patients to access non-emergency healthcare 24 hours a day was given the go ahead 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.”

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.

Department of Health