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The aim of NHS Direct, as stated by the government in the NHS White Paper, The New NHS, was “to provide people at home with easier and faster advice and information about health, illness, and the NHS, so that they are better able to care for themselves and their families”.

These original sites were set up as pilots but soon proved successful, reaching over 1 million people and earning highly positive feedback.

Additional waves of pilots were established in contact centres around England until the whole country was covered by the NHS Direct telephone service in 2000.

The service was equipped to deal with a huge range of health enquiries, from symptomatic queries that require assessment and treatment, to requests for local healthcare services and healthy living advice.

Every person that called NHS Direct feeling unwell was assessed to establish the severity of their symptoms, so as to re-route any urgent or life-threatening situations to the emergency services as quickly as possible.

As many callers were advised to look after their symptoms at home without seeing their GP, the NHS Direct telephone service reduced the demand on NHS resources and helped to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor, dentist and accident and emergency department.

The NHS Direct telephone service also provided a confidential interpreter service in many different languages, which could be accessed by stating the language required when the call was answered.

The digital television service contained condensed versions of many of the most common and popular health encyclopaedia topics and common health questions.

Although it is not well known, NHS Direct supplies a multitude of additional commissioned services within the NHS.

NHS Direct only provided its service for residents and visitors in England, and there are corresponding public services covering Scotland (NHS 24) and Wales (NHS Direct Wales). NHS Direct’s core service was the provision of health advice to the public through the national telephone service or through digital channels including the website.

In England and Wales, the NHS Direct telephone service was available on 0845 46 47 and was run by a specially trained team of information handlers and healthcare professionals, including nurses and dental nurses.

For more complex queries, the symptom checkers allowed the user to receive a call back from a nurse or to take part in a webchat for further information and help.

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