Free line to replace NHS Direct on its way in the summer

A FREE health advice telephone service is set to be rolled out to replace NHS Direct.

From this summer, residents will be able to call 111 on non-life threatening health issues, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

The service will direct callers to the most appropriate service, taking into account their location, time of day and local NHS capacity.

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At present, people in Scotland pay the price of a local phone call when calling the advice service from a landline, with calls from a mobile often costing more.

An announcement had been made last week in regards the free-to-call service being rolled out across England and Wales in April.

This led to calls from Tory politicians for a similar scheme to be introduced north of the Border, and a petition had been lodged at the Scottish Parliament asking MSPs to urge the government to make calls for NHS 24 free from mobile phones.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We called for this earlier this month and I’m glad the Scottish Government has taken notice of that.

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“It would have been ridiculous for people in England to be able to access free medical advice while in Scotland it was coming at a cost.”

Operators will be able to send out an ambulance, put someone through to a nurse, book an out-of-hours GP appointment, or direct the caller to a pharmacist or dentist.

Presently, NHS Direct call handlers do not have a capacity to request ambulances or book appointments, and patients have to wait to receive a separate call back if they need to speak to a nurse or doctor.

Although the new service will be for those occasions when residents need medical help fast, health bosses have been keen to stress that it is not a 999 emergency phoneline.

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However, Margaret Watt of the Scottish Patients Association believes that there will be confusion and that there must be proper promotion of the service.

She said: “The key to all of this will be how well advertised it is and educating patients as to its correct use; if this doesn’t happen then it will flop.

“You must remember that in the main it will be elderly people using this service and a change of numbers will lead to confusion.

Health chiefs have also warned people to take care when dialling the new 111
telephone number, as 112 is the emergency service number for all of Europe – in the UK, callers are transferred to the 999 service.