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NHS Direct set to be "as well known as 999'

27 November, 2000

Secretary of State Alan Milburn launched the new NHS Direct Prospectus - a 'stocktake' of NHS Direct achievements and its future role in the NHS - to mark NHS Direct Day.

NHS Direct Day celebrates the extension of NHS Direct, the nurse led 24-hour telephone advice line, to cover the whole of England's population. NHS Direct has been established in less than three years as the largest telephone-based healthcare provider in the world. Launched in March 1998, the helpline has received more than 3.5 million calls and takes an average of 60,000 calls a week, expected to rise to 100,000 a week by the end of the year.

The new NHS Direct prospectus, launched by Alan Milburn at the new NHS Direct call centre in London, sets out future developments for the service including further integration of out of hours care, handling category C ambulance calls and working with GPs to pilot NHS Direct centres assessing 'in-hours' calls. NHS Direct is expected to take between 15 to 20 million calls per year.

Alan Milburn said:

"The Government established NHS Direct to give patients instant access to healthcare advice round the clock. The reassurance provided by the service's expert nurses has proved extremely popular with the public. It has quickly become an integral part of the healthcare service. It is not a substitute for other NHS services, but it can help patients avoid unnecessary hospital visits and GP call outs - so helping the NHS.

"Now that it is a national service we can build on the foundations of the last three years. Before long it will become a single gateway into NHS services, giving patients more choice about how to use the health service. 0845 4647 looks set to become as familiar as the 999 emergency telephone number.

"The development of NHS Direct shows how modernisation in the NHS is gaining momentum. After decades of neglect the NHS is now a service in transition. The extra investment and the reforms the Government is making are beginning to pay dividends. There is a long way to go, but NHS Direct is a symbol that the Government is determined to make the NHS faster and more convenient for patients."

NHS Direct achievements to date:

  • 97 per cent of patients have been satisfied or very satisfied with the service they have received
  • 92 per cent of callers appreciated the reassurance offered by the nurses
  • More than 50 per cent of people are redirected to a more appropriate course of action
  • Over the last six months 61 per cent of calls have been from female patients - half of these have been from young women aged 17 to 45 years
  • 23 per cent of calls have been made by a parent about their child
  • 31 per cent of callers have been given self-care advice - which is safe and reliable