Headlines: July 10th, 2009

The communications regulator, Ofcom, has published proposals that could lead to a new single telephone number people can dial when they need non-emergency healthcare in their local area. The plans would enable the Department of Health to introduce one memorable number – 111 – which may be piloted in parts of the country early next year.

Ofcom allocates millions of telephone numbers each year to communication providers for homes, businesses and organisations to use. Its proposals, which are out for consultation until August 20th, explain how the number allocation process would work and how introducing 111 would make the best use of the UK’s available telephone numbers.

It also sets out on behalf of the Department of Health a range of price options for calls to the service. These include making calls free,a flat-rate 10 pence per call, charging callers at 3 pence a minute and whether charges should be at national or local rates. The final decision on costs will be taken by the Department of Health through negotiations with communications providers.

The Department of Health wants to introduce the single number service in England to provide advice and information to patients who need medical help urgently in situations which are not life threatening. It is planning to pilot the new number in certain parts of the country from spring 2010 and, subject to evaluation, expects to roll it out across England. Health authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales may also consider introducing the 111 service following the pilots.