UK Telecoms watchdog OFCOM has given the go-ahead for 111 to become the new three digit number for accessing non-emergency healthcare 24-hours a day.
The 111 number will be used to supplement the 999 emergency number and NHS Direct, by connecting callers to non-emergency care services, such as urgent and out-of-hours services, using the NHS Pathways software.
The Pathways software enables call handlers to direct people by assessing their clinical need, and match them against a comprehensive directory local services and their current available capacity.
The new 111 number will link people to service providers using NHS Pathways clinical assessment and service referral platform. The system, which has been extensively piloted in the North East of England, has been developed by NHS Connecting for Health.
One of the main strengths of the system is said to be its ability to integrate often fragmented out-of-hours, urgent and emergency care services, making them easy for citizens to access and then referring callers to the most appropriate available service nearest to them.
OFCOM approved the new number, requested by the Department of Health, following a five month public consultation. Three regions of England will pilot the new system, beginning in 2010, ahead of a possible national roll-out in 2011.
The three NHS regions that will begin pilots in 2010 are: the North East, East Midlands and East of England. In each area the pilot will be led by the Strategic Health Authority.