More "memorable" 111 freephone number will be in place by 2014
Anti-poverty campaigners have welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government that calls to NHS 24 are to be replaced with a free of charge 111 number.
The existing number for the health information and self care advice line will be replaced by April 2014, meaning people in Scotland will no longer be charged when calling from a landline or mobile.
The announcement follows a petition by Caroline Mockford, a community activist with the Poverty Alliance, who asked the Scottish Government to look into the cost of calling NHS 24 from a mobile phone after being charged nearly £8 by her service provider for a call. Mockford argued that many people on low incomes often use pre-payment mobile phones as they do not have access to a landline, and the high cost of phoning the helpline was leading to many dialing 999 or attending accident and emergency inappropriately.
“My research showed that 33 per cent 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,” she said.
“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.”
Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said the announcement was a “great result” for Mockford, who was previously involved in the Alliance’s EPIC project.
“Caroline got involved with the Poverty Alliance to help make a difference in her community. She has shown that with persistence we can make real change not only in our own community, but in our society. We are very proud of the action that she has taken and hope that it inspires others to get involved.”
Health Secretary, Alex Neil, said the “memorable” freephone number removes barriers to accessing health advice out-of-hours, and will also help keep emergency lifesaving services available for those who really need them.
“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,” Neil said.
NHS 24 takes 1.5 million calls per year from patients when their GP surgery is closed. The special health boards is upgrading its technology during 2013 ahead of the number going live in 2014.