A memorable new free number for NHS 24 is to be introduced.
The existing number for NHS 24 will be replaced by 111 in April 2014, meaning people in Scotland will no longer be charged when calling the advice service from a landline or mobile.
NHS 24 will continue to deliver the same high quality service for anyone seeking advice and support during the out of hours period when their GP surgery is closed.
The current cost to call NHS 24 from a BT landline is the price of a local phone call, with calls from other landline service providers and mobile providers often costing more.
Health Secretary, Alex Neil, said:
“I strongly believe that our NHS should be free at the point of contact and this new number is about ensuring that this applies to those who seek support and advice from NHS 24.
“By introducing this memorable and free number we are removing any barrier for the public to access the health advice when their GP surgery is closed. By ensuring people have access to health information it will also help to keep emergency lifesaving services available for those who really need them.”
The new number is being supported by Caroline Mockford, a community activist with The Poverty Alliance.
After being charged almost £8 by her service provider for a call to NHS 24 from her mobile phone, Caroline Mockford, submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament about the expense of accessing this vital service.
Welcoming the introduction of the new number next year, Ms Mockford said:
“Many people on low incomes often use pre payment mobile phones as they do not have a landline.
“My research showed that 33% of mobile only phone users indicated that cost would be a barrier to them accessing NHS 24 and if they had no credit in their phone they would have to phone 999.
“I felt that action needed to be taken on this especially for those with disabilities like myself, parents with children, and pensioners who are most often the people who need this service.
“The introduction of a 111 number in 2014 will save people having to dial 999 and I also believe it will have a knock on impact on the number of people attending accident and emergency inappropriately.
“So I would like to thank the Scottish Government for acting upon the views of the people.”
NHS 24 Chief Executive John Turner said:
“We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement today. NHS 24 has been providing high quality, safe and effective telephone triage and support services to the people of Scotland during the out of hours period for the past 10 years. We have a range of highly skilled staff taking 1.5 million calls per year from patients when their GP surgery is closed.
"NHS 24 will work closely with a range of NHS services such as the GP out of hours service, primary care emergency centres, A&E services, the Scottish Ambulance Service and patient representatives to fully plan and implement the change to 111. This will help ensure that, when 111 is introduced to Scotland next year, NHS 24 and our partners across Scotland, will continue 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 provides a range of telehealth and telecare services to Scotland. NHS 24 takes 1.5 million calls per year 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.