THE number of 999 calls made to emergency services has dropped in communities where a new service has been set up to offer advice.
The pilot for the 111 NHS hotline was launched in County Durham in July last year to ease the pressure on the 999 service and give easy access to information on where to get treatment.
Since then, it has answered more then 201,450 calls, with 42 per cent of callers given a booked appointment at their nearest urgent care centre or sent to their GP during opening hours.
Leaders of the project, which could replace NHS Direct over time, say six per cent of inquiries led to callers being directed to accident and emergency and 11 per cent sparked an ambulance call-out.
Bosses say the figures show there were no delays in care and patients had a better experience due to quicker access to the most appropriate services.
The statistics also show a drop of 999 calls by 14 per cent and nine per cent reduction in attendances at casualty departments.
In the run up to Christmas and new year, the team behind the trial will be sending out leaflets to households across the county encouraging them to take advantage of the 111 line.
It is aimed at those who think they may need the help of an accident and emergency or other urgency care unit, but do not have a life-threatening condition or injury.
It can also offer advice out of GP hours or if uncertain where to get help.
Call handlers assess patients’ needs and direct them to the right help, or, if the situation is life-threatening, an ambulance can sent.
Berenice Groves, programme director NHS 111 Service North East, said: “People are often confused by the number and type of healthcare services available to them locally and NHS 111 is designed to simplify this decision making process.
“By encouraging people to talk to us before they set off we aim to ensure patients are re-assured and then directed to those services that are closest to them and which can best meet their healthcare needs.
“We hope that by making sure patients access the most appropriate service in the shortest possible time we will be able to deliver a positive patient experience and higher levels of patient satisfaction.”
At the moment, the NHS 111 service is only available across County Durham but will be rolled out over the North East area by April 2013.
It runs round the clock and every day of the year, with calls free from landlines and mobiles.