THE new non-emergency NHS number has been switched on in Devon today.
The NHS 111 helpline service, which replaces NHS Direct, came into action at 11am.
It was first due to be launched on April 1 and then on June 18, but was delayed both times.
NHS 111 in Devon is being run by the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, and is operated from a call centre in Exeter.
The trust has been operating the 111 line in Dorset since February.
Patients contacting the new 111 service will be given an assessment over the telephone by trained call handlers who are supported by clinicians.
They can offer healthcare advice and direct people to the relevant local service - which might include an out-of-hours doctor, minor injuries unit, community nurse, late night chemist or emergency dentist.
It is accessible 24 hours a day, all year round, and calls from landlines and mobiles are free.
The NHs advises patients to call 111 if:
- you need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency
- you think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service
- you don't know who to call or you don't have a GP to call
- you need health information or reassurance about what to do next
Emergency calls should still be made using the 999 number.
Dr Simon Scott-Hayward, GP clinical lead for Devon’s NHS 111 service, said: “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 testing the Department of Health praised SWASFT for their recruitment and training processes.
“They intend to use their approach as a model of best practice across the country.
“We are confident that our service will be amongst the very best in the country.”
The out-of-hours GP calls which are currently managed by Devon Doctors will be gradually migrated over to 111 between October 2013 and April next year.
NHS Direct will end its operations later this month and patients contacting NHS Direct will be asked to redial 111 instead.