Headlines: October 19th, 1998

The Government is considering introducing a single telephone number to put patients in touch with the full range of NHS services from anywhere in the country.Patients will still be able to ring their local hospital or GP’s surgery directly, but when the new NHS Direct telephone helpline goes national in the year 2000, Ministers hope that it could be used for more than advice.

Health Minister Alan Milburn said that NHS Direct was already proving its worth. In the first three months, 15,000 calls were made to three NHS Direct pilot centres. Following advice from a trained nurse, 30 per cent were able to look after themselves at home rather than having to attend a GP’s surgery or the local hospital casualty department. In 200 cases, callers needed emergency help even though they had not known this before talking to NHS Direct nurses. Mr Milburn said that in these cases, NHS Direct was already proving to be a lifesaver.

NHS Direct will be operating across the whole country by the end of the year 2000.

Mr Milburn said the service could be used to schedule and manage primary care patient appointments, to help patients prepare for hospital admissions, or follow-up after discharge. He said that there was good evidence from the USA that such services could also help people in the community who suffered from a chronic condition.

Mr Milburn said: “The potential of NHS Direct is enormous. In alliance with other services and the work of GP co-operatives, it promises patients the modern and dependable health service that they want to see.”