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3 December 2010, 14:02 | Updated: 3 December 2010, 14:05
The NHS in Luton has today (Friday December 3rd) launched a new 111 telephone number in the town to make it easier for people to access non-emergency health care services.
Luton is one of four areas in England trialling the new number which will complement the existing 999 emergency phone number.
The 111 service is free to call and is staffed by a team of fully trained call advisers, supported by nurses, who are on hand to assess callers' needs and ensure they receive the right service as quickly as possible.
It guides patients to a locally available service or provides appropriate advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The number can be used when callers need help but the condition is not immediately life threatening.
It is hoped it will be particularly useful outside of GP surgery hours and for people who are away from home.
When someone calls 111, they will be assessed straight away. If it is an emergency, an ambulance will be dispatched immediately without the need for further assessment. For any other health problems, the NHS 111 call advisers will be able to direct people to the service that is best able to meet their individual needs. For minor illnesses and injuries, the 111 service will be able to provide immediate medical advice.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It is essential that we improve access to and understanding about urgent care services, which include out-of-hours care. At present, too many people are confused about who to contact and how to do so.
"By putting in place one, easily memorable 111 number for all urgent inquiries to run alongside the emergency '999' number we will simplify NHS services for patients. 111 will be free to call and available 24/7, putting patients in touch with the right NHS service, first time."
Angela McNab, Chief Executive of NHS Luton, said: "The new 111 number will be a fantastic NHS service for people living in Luton - it's free, easy to remember and directs people to the right service quickly when they have an urgent health need. We hope that by introducing the 111 number people will think twice about calling for an ambulance or going to the emergency department of the hospital when it is not an emergency."
Nick Chapman, Chief Executive of NHS Direct, said: "NHS Direct is delighted to be working with the other health organisations in Luton to test how we can best deliver the new NHS 111 service there. The new, memorable number will make it easier for patients in the local area to access local health services. "
The trial will run for 12 months in Luton before a decision is taken about rolling it out to other parts of the east of England.