A new phone number designed to take the strain off casualty departments has launched across the whole of Devon.
The NHS111 service, which is operated by South Western Ambulance Foundation Trust (SWASFT), was initially launched in part of the county in September last year, but now the remaining areas will also switch to 111.
NHS 111 has already replaced the previous NHS Direct and now it replaces GP out-of-hours telephone numbers in throughout the remainder of the county.
GP practices have changed their answer phone messages and websites to direct patients to call 111 when their surgery is closed. Anyone ringing their GP practice out of hours will now be advised to use the 111 number.
NHS111 is a national initiative that is being rolled out across the country and is already been launched in Cornwall.
Dr Andy Smith, medical director for SWASFT, said: “We have the experience of running the NHS111 service in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Dorset, Somerset and part of Devon and we will be bringing that experience and expertise to complete the Devon service.
“We have a local base in Exeter with local staff and all the local knowledge that comes from managing our successful ambulance service in the county too.”
Dr Simon Scott-Hayward, GP clinical lead for Devon’s NHS111 service, said: “NHS111 can help patients to navigate their way through the myriad of NHS services that are out there.
“It is easy and free to access and will point patients to the best place to meet their urgent health needs.
“We have been careful in our planning and preparation for the Devon service and during our testing the Department of Health praised SWASFT for their recruitment and training processes.
“We are confident that our service will be amongst the very best in the country.”
The service is designed to make it easier for patients to access local health services and should be used when there is an urgent medical need but the condition does not warrant a 999 call.
NHS111 is available 24-hours-a-day, 365 days a year. When patients call 111 they will be assessed by trained call handlers who are supported by clinicians.
The call handlers and clinicians will then provide healthcare advice and direct people to the relevant local service that best suits their needs.