People in the Western Isles can NOW call NHS 24 free, simply by dialling 111.
The new and easy-to-remember telephone number was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil and means that people throughout Scotland will no longer be charged when calling the national telehealth and telecare service from a landline or mobile.
NHS 24 will continue to deliver the same high quality service for anyone seeking advice and support within the Western Isles during the out of hours period when their GP surgery is closed.
Health Minister Mr Neil said: “I strongly believe that our NHS should be free at the point of care for all, and this new number will help to protect these founding principles of the NHS.
“The new number is easy to remember, and free to call, which will ensure everyone across Scotland can access support and advice from NHS24 whenever they need it. NHS 24 already provides a valuable service to patients across Scotland when their GP surgery is closed, and there will be absolutely no change to the high quality service provided through this new number.
“By introducing the 111 number we are removing any barrier for the public to access the health advice when their GP surgery is closed.
This will help to ensure people have access to health information and support, including access to a GP, when they really need it. In Scotland, the 111 number will be run by NHS 24 as a public service, in public hands – serving the needs of patients.
“This is in complete contrast to the approach adopted by the NHS in England, where different organisations, including private sector providers, are contracted to provide the number in different regions.”
Mother-of-two Lee Armstrong, from Edinburgh, supports the change to the new number. Lee, 37, has a seven-year-old daughter Charlotte who has type one diabetes. Charlotte, who is a pupil at Wardie Primary School, was diagnosed with the condition when she was four and now uses an insulin pump.
Lee has contacted NHS 24 on several occasions looking for advice and reassurance when she is worried about her daughter’s blood sugar levels. Lee said: “As a parent, I have always found it useful to have someone at the end of the telephone when GP surgeries are not open at the weekend or in the evenings. I have always been impressed that information about Charlotte and her condition is passed on quickly by NHS 24 to out-of-hours staff. On several occasions, staff have gone above and beyond to make sure Charlotte receives the right treatment or that I am given the correct advice as a parent. I think the move to the free telephone number will make it even easier for parents like me to contact the service in what is a positive development.”
NHS 24 Chief Executive John Turner said: “By dialling 111, patients throughout Scotland will receive the same high quality, trusted service that NHS 24 has delivered for more than ten years. We will continue to work with our partners across Scotland to provide high quality support to patients and their families on the new number, which is easy to remember and free to call.”
“NHS 24 has been serving the people of Scotland for more than ten years now and the move to a freephone number represents the next stage in the development of the country’s provider of telehealth and telecare services.”
Welcoming the introduction of the new free phone number, Dr Andrew Buist, Deputy Chairman of the BMA’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said: “Creating a new freephone number for NHS 24 will remove barriers to accessing this important part of our out of hours service. Patients will no longer have to worry about the cost of a phone call when seeking urgent health advice. NHS 24 provides an important service to patients at evenings and weekends for medical problems that can’t wait until the GP surgery reopens, with healthcare advice and if necessary access to a GP.”
Margaret Anderson, joint chair of NHS 24’s Public Partnership Forum, added: “The change from the original 0845 number to the very easy to remember 111 will give a great advantage to the people of Scotland when they need to access healthcare advice. I thoroughly endorse this move, which is not, it must be noted, a change of service, but a change of number.”
NHS 24 will continue to be contactable via the old number (08454 24 24 24) for a limited time. Call volumes to this number will be closely monitored and a decision to close the line will be taken at an appropriate time.
NHS 24 provides a range of telehealth and telecare services to Scotland. NHS 24 takes 1.5 million calls per year – and answers calls on average within four seconds - from patients seeking help when their GP surgery is closed. Scotland’s national telephone triage service has been supporting callers in Scotland for ten years and is an integral part of NHS Scotland. NHS 24 maintains high levels of service throughout the year, including during periods of peak demand such as the festive period when the service can receive around 8,000 calls per day.