back to article NHS Direct gets to be number one, one, one

UK regulator Ofcom has proposed allocating the number 111 for non-emergency medical advice, arguing that no-one can remember the number for NHS Direct. The proposal runs to 61 pages (pdf), but boils down to the idea that people dialling "111" anywhere in England should be connected to NHS Direct. Scotland should follow soon, …


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  1. PerspexAvenger


    Now can we look at getting a national "non-emergency" number for Police services as well? Something I regard as A Bit More Useful.

    If someone's nicked my car overnight there's no point me dialling 999, but it'd be nice to have a straightforward way of poking the local station.

  2. Dex


    647 (N-H-S) would be more logical? virtually all phones have letters about the numbers (mobile definately nad some most payphones) so it's easy to spell out N-H-S (647)

  3. Real Ale is Best

    Tell them they don't have swine flu?

    That would be a lie. If they have flu symptoms, then they most likely have swine flu. It has spread throughout the population. Its just usually so mild, that most peope don't notice.

    What they should be saying is stay at home, take some paracetaol, and don't worry about it.

  4. espressoSquirrel
    Paris Hilton

    0845 4647 how will i remember that?

    can i just mash the keypad?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Loop disconnect faults?

    The reason that 112 is used across Europe for emergency services is that there are just too many false calls to 111. For those without the history, before tone dialing (DTMF) phones used on off pulses to indicate the dialed number. Due to the UKs late use of DTMF there are still many phone (even push button) using pulse dialing and all BT exchanges support it.

    Anyone using a number consisting of nothing but 1's can expect a flood of calls, especially when it rains due do the doggy state of many phone lines! :-)

    Oh, and how may people with mobiles/VoIP etc (maybe with overseas routing) are going to be able to dial this non-standard number? There are enough problems with the 0845 4647 number not being routable due to being 2 digits to short that it's often quoted as 0845464748 even though both formats may fail to route!

    I just wish there was someone at Ofcom who appeared to know how the UK phone network and numbering is _supposed_ to work!

  6. Alexis Vallance


    What's the point of NHS Direct? They only ever tell you to go and see a doctor.

  7. Martin Lyne


    I predict a lot of children typing that in. As a kid I knew not to type 999 EVER. But other random combinations seemed ok.

    Dare I suggest 888 or 555? Or just call the operator and ask..

  8. Andrew Yeomans

    Phantom calls

    Back in 1992, trials of the "112" number led to many false alarms, see

    "111" would be even more susceptible to line faults pulse-dialling the number.

    (Badgers, as their setts could break the cables.)

  9. RichardB


    didn't we get 999 as the emergency number because 111 is what a partially disconnected line dials by accident - eg tree falling on it?

  10. Steve Foster

    101 service?

    Hmmm, hadn't heard of that. Did a bit of digging and it's another example of the "oh look I can't use a phone directory" numbers. Only more amusingly, the website for it says it's live in "3 areas" while their coverage map shows 5 (and if you follow the "where can I use 101?" link, it lists 5 areas. Yet another example of this government pissing away our money on useless crap.

    Here's an even better idea - lets remove all the numbers from all phones, and simply make all phones connect to an operator when the handset is lifted (or Begin Call is pressed on a mobile). You can ask the operator to connect you to whomever you want to talk to without needing to remember a single number (which is after all the logical conclusion to the government position), and we create loads of jobs at the same time (admittedly, in India!).

    PS Why when I uncheck "Remember Me", does ElReg still Remember Me (by dropping cookies on my machine)?

  11. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!

    61 pages? WTF?

    Forget everything else about this article.

    How do I get a job like this, being paid to create a 61 page document about a simple number change, read through it, the document is complete pointless bollocks.

    I bet the writer is considered some kind of expert and probably makes a large pile of cash doing his job.

    No one is going to read it, the person who wrote it could probably have padded it out half way through with "Banana banana banana banana banana banana banana banana...".

    So 61 pages for a number change, no wonder government documents can run into thousands of pages of gibberish, now I understand it all.

  12. Matt Brigden

    You dont need the number

    All you need is to write this down "If it gets any worse or you feel no better in the morning then go and see your own Gp"

    All they ever say when you ring them for anything . And they wonder why people say ok thanks and go up to A&E .

  13. Anonymous Coward

    111 False alarms


    When they made 112 available as an alternative to 999, the number of false calls to the emergency operator was huge.

    Caused a lot of the time by damaged or faulty underground cables tapping the ground/earth. Which was the reason 999 was chosen in the 1930's!!!

    (Although that was to do with overhead lines tapping together.)

    Will they ever learn???

  14. Ian Chard

    101 looks like a dead project

    I'd never even heard of it before this article, but says it's only available in Cardiff, Hampshire, Northumberland and Sheffield -- and now that the Home Office has binned its funding, Leicester has dropped out.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Protecting doctor's arses

    The only reason NHSDirect says things like "go and see the doctor in the morning" is because the doctors got together with the lawyers and nobbled the service.

    80% of the visits to GPs are a waste of time and unnecessary, but they make those GPs money. So on the excuse that over the phone they might not diagnose something, sometimes, they killed any useful purpose of the system.

    If you organised thing properly then 4 in every 5 doctors could be in hospitals, hammering down on the waiting lists. Of course eventually, when we had a system that worked, they won't be needed any more, and that's what REALLY worries the doctors and their six figure salaries.

  16. dave 151
    Paris Hilton

    NHS Direct

    widely known as NHS Redirect, as all they ever do is redirect you to your GP or A&E if there is the remotest chance of you being actually ill.

    Paris, as at least she could fake sincerity while I moan about my man flu.

  17. Conrad Longmore

    How about 0118 999 88199 9119 725 3

    0118 999 88199 9119 725 3

  18. Andy Barber

    Where's amanfromars...

    ...when we need him?

    111 will result in too many mis-dials even with MF4 dialling, as LD dialling is still used!

    Tap-tap-tap, "Emergency, what service do you require?"

  19. Nigel 11

    NHS direct - quite useful, not pointless

    They are good for screening what are almost certainly minor things when you aren't 100% sure of that. One time, I'd had a mild but persistent cough for three weeks (longer than ever before). They checked my other symptoms. They worked out that it could be a (harmless) side-effect of a medication I'm taking, but that was unlikely because I'd probably have noticed it immediately, not years later. And they reassured me that there was a mild winter virus doing the rounds that was causing quite a lot of persistent tickly coughs. They told me to call back if it got worse, or didn't get better within another month ... which it did.

    Another time they were very helpful was telling me how to get replacement meds, when they got stolen with my luggage on a Friday evening. (It would have been dangerous to wait until Monday to find a doc )

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Pointless

    I had Flu just as the Swine Flu hit the news, was having pains in my chest from all the coughing sneezing so hit the NHS website and went through the question hoops, it then said

    "Call Ambulance !" or some nasty message, the NHS direct line calmed me down !

    I ended up on a massive dose of antibiotics and was never offered any of the bloody TAMIFLU

  21. Anonymous Coward

    from an insider

    I work there, so matt, dave, and even the reg or any other smartarse who speaks up without knowing what the fuck they're going on about, listen up. The callers are not assessed by 'software and call takers' but by fully trained up NHS nurses and midwives who have to have at least five-ten years service under their belts. Most of the nurses at my site have become disabled through years of lifting fat fucks on wards, so it's the ideal job for them. Initial calls are triaged by health advisors, but they have constant access to a clinical lead, usually a nurse with a good 20 years worth of experience.

    Most calls to the service are 'Health Info' calls which are sent off to a dedicated team, or 'quick calls' such as 'What is a chemist?', 'Where's the local clap clinic' or 'how do i find a vet?' (No I'm not joking, wish I was). Of the 30% of calls that require assessment the most common outcome is 'Home Care' for idiots who don't know how to put a sticky plaster on, or 'See GP for routine appt. within a month' for nutters who think that the single spot on their face is leprosy. The third most common dispo is 'GP within a week', followed by 'GP within 48 hrs' which the patients need to follow up themselves, if they can figure out how to. Out of the millions of calls taken a small percentage are referred to out of hours GPs directly, and a tiny percentage are told 'Visit A&E' or are patched through to the ambulance service.

    Righto, onto the A&E/999 thing. If the British public weren't such idle, idiotic, hypochondriac lying fuckwits those two would hardly ever be used. but, if Joe Fucktard is saying his leg is hanging off, then we obviously can't ignore him. If lying Sally Twatbag who makes 30 calls a night is drunk and pretending to be unconscious, we can't tell her pissed mate to fuck off and leave us alone. Conversely if Barry Braindead calls us instead of dialling 999 for his very obvious heart attack, he gets patched through. If Mrs Shouldbe-Sterilised rings because her baby is blue, not moving, and "Should I give him some calpol" then what are we supposed to do? Not bother calling for an ambulance?

    Google 'Tragedy Towers' for a better example of what goes on, and the lying, stupid scumbags that NHSD staff ehave to deal with every day. After copping shit from the idiot public they then get it in the neck from other NHS staff because liars dial 999 and say "NHSD told me to do it" and ambulance calltakers are stupid enough to believe them, or they turn up at AE, lying, and saying the same thing.

    If you call, and you're telling the absolute truth about your symptoms, and they tell you to get help from a GP or A&E then do that. They're not blind automatons, they're trained healthcare staff with a shit job, doing a thankless task and receiving abuse every day. omplete mental breakdowns are a ccomon reason for sickness here. Some people have ASBOs or restraining orders forbidding them to contact us, it's that bad.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "647 (N-H-S) would be more logical? "

    Erm, yeah, apart from the tens of thousands of people who have numbers starting 647 who would have to be renumbered.

  23. NHS Patient

    Proposal for 101

    Many will continue to pay premium rates to call NHS Direct on 0845 4647, which delivers revenue share income of one million pounds per annum.

    Until this has been replaced by 111, an alternative number - 0345 4647 - must be made available. This need not be a permanent replacement; however it is already set up and ready for use.

    The new (111) number must be priced bearing in mind that patients must not be paying NHS providers for NHS services and telephone companies must not be profiteering at the expense of the NHS. Whatever the fair rate that is set; there is no justification for excluding 111 from inclusive call packages.

  24. cmantito

    RE: Pointless

    NHS Direct is hardly pointless - I was in a scenario once with a seizing friend who couldn't respond where it wasn't a direct threat to her life, but was still very scary and we had no idea what to do! Being in Hampshire, I was able to ring 101 (the non-emergency police number), and they connected me to NHS direct, who was able to help sort everything out. Until I rang 101 I didn't even know NHS direct existed! If all areas had 101 service, then I'd say just group NHS direct with that, but if they don't, then this could be useful.

    As for 111 being misdialed, just stick a recording on the beginning before the call is connected - "You are being connected to NHS direct, if this is not what you wanted, hang up."

  25. Michael 28

    just a thought.....

    how about "666" contact your nearest spiritual advisor, for last rites, etc....tho chances are, you'd have to go through an automated menu system first..

    Possibly not a good way to spend your last moments on earth, methinks.

  26. Christopher W
    Paris Hilton

    @AC Thursday 9th July 2009 13:09 GMT

    I thought the 'alternative' NHS Direct number (for people being PBXes, etc) was 08457 454647 ?

    All NHS/Polizei/non-emergency calls should be charged as per 03 standards imho. West Midlands Police STILL use 0845 numbers for their non-emergency switchboard, although there's a perfectly good 0121 number (which the 0845 points to). They won't publicly acknowledge this though, because they make £23,000 a year off the NGN :( (see, "POLICE 5: DON’T CALL US…", or

    Paris, because even she's not stupid enough to call 0845 numbers without checking saynoto0870 first

  27. Martin 71 Silver badge

    111 is a non-usable number

    Precisely due to the reason everyone is pointing out, it may be old, but LD dialling is still a standard, still used by some switching systems, and by many phones. 111 is going to just get swamped, and result in more calls to 999 or trips to A&E.

    Also, who thinks 0845 4647 is difficult to remember?

    Ofcom need to be disbanded, Oftel at least had teeth AND a couple of people who had a clue how phones worked.

  28. Graham Marsden

    Re: 101

    I'm in Portsmouth and I've actually used 101 a few times for things that were worth contacting the Police for (eg idiots bombing up and down the road on a mini-moto late at night) but not worth dialling 999 about.

    It was actually a good idea and I would have hoped to see it rolled out nationwide instead of being dumped...

  29. SteveK

    Re: Hmm

    "Dare I suggest 888 or 555?"

    Doesn't 888 just give subtitles? Oh, wait..

  30. The Bug


    Over in these parts the emergency number is 111 - I guess the phone system isn't as old as the UKs so you don't get weather (or badgers) dialing the number.

    You are also encouraged to call 111 if you aren't sure if it is an emergency or not and simply want to get through to you local police station.

    Penguins 'cos they live at the beach down the road from me.

  31. R Callan

    @The Bug

    The choice of emergency number had to do with the design of the old rotary telephones. U.K. 'phones were numbered from 9 to 0 going clockwise. EnZed 'phones were numbered 1 to 0 going clockwise. The U.K. "9" is (was) in the same position as the EnZed "1" i.e. it gave the longest time to return to rest when dialed. (Across the ditch the Strines placed "0" in the same position, that is why they use "000" as their emergency #). To have the same potential problems in EnZed as the Poms we would have to use "000" as a non-emergency emergency number.

    p.s. what sort of penguins do you have down the road, little blues or yellow eyed?

    Penguin because they live in the boxes in front of me :-)

  32. Anonymous Coward

    You're my number 1 ....

    I predict lots of people to accidently dial 112 (the euro version of 999)

    Wouldn't 888 be better?

    Press 1 for swine flu, press 2 for the shits, press 3 for hang-overs, press 4 for sickies or press 5 for I'd rather watch the world cup, cricket or tennis ...

  33. Jonathan Hogg

    Why not expand 101 to include NHSD?

    999 covers ambulance, police, fire, coast guard. Why couldn't a single non-emergency number cover local police, NHS Direct, suspected gas leaks, "I saw a shifty foreign-looking bloke outside the local post office and I think he's probably a terrorist", etc.

    You could put a menu system on it to cut out the need for operators since, if it's not an emergency, you're likely not too bothered about having to navigate a menu and if you're using some ancient phone you could always just have "or stay on the line for an operator".

    Rocket-science icon since it doesn't seem like it to me...

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the UK....

    We do not use number letter substitutions normally

  35. Alan Gauton

    NHS 24

    NHS Direct doesn't exist in Scotland - it's a similar thing called NHS 24 (with an almost sensible number 08454 242424). So that's the first thing that's a problem in the UK - different home nations with different numbers for similar services.

    Mind you, we've used NHS 24 a few times over the years (pain relief for gall stones, breathing problems with my son and so on), and with one exception they've been really useful and helpful.

    As for a national non-emergency police number - Tayside police already have a regional one, which is advertised on the local radio and newspapers.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    @ PerspexAvenger and AC

    PerspexAvenger - In some areas: 101 or 08450454545 does the same for yhe police.

    112 is used on mbiles, currently 999 provides no geographic info to the call taker on a mobile, a fact that lead to my casulty with a cardiac arrest in Mayflower Park SOUTHAMPTON waiting for 30 mins because they sent the Ambulance to Manchester. 112 gives some geographic cues to the operator and you tend to end up at local call centers.

    @AC Well done for posting anonnymously because if I were your boss you'd be redundant now. I have to deal with the public day in day out and while its not all fun and games you have to accept that there are some people that just need help full stop and not nessecarilly that delivered by a Dr or Paramed. Your attitude to be frank, stinks, and this is axactly the attitude that makes people call 999 instead. I hope you arent a medical professional, I really really do.

    Good idea, but 111 is a bad idea for the reasons above, maybe 555 is a better idea, 888 too close to 999 for my liking.

  37. Pabs

    @Conrad Longmore

    lol, great IT crowd me signing that song now :P

  38. Glen Forde

    NHS Direct saved my life

    But I was perfectly able to look up the number, pay for the call (about £3 in all) and wait for the transport to take me to the out of hours doctors service before I admitted to A&E, was diagnosed with life threatening condition and shipped to a new PFI ward for emergency surgery.

    I would like to publicly thank NHS Direct for helping me still be around.

    If ofcom (bless them I used to work there) can think of a good way of making the service more accessible, then good on them as well, but I doubt it.

    Unfortunately human nature being what it is (as reported from friends in several emergency services) any service will always be swamped by the selfish, self serving and attention seeking; ho hum. Any suggestions for how to improve the human condition please put into practice and apply for the Nobel Peace Prize.

  39. Lionel Baden

    i like the idea though

    101 would be a good number for non emergency stuff ..

    e.g. i had to call the police cause i saw two young lads (mebbe 12 - 14 ) walking down the central barrier or the A24 around horsham towards a very very busy Roundabout !!

    I would of called my local police but fuck know what their number is ...

    again reporting abandoned cars

    what if im on Frikking holdiay !!!!

    im starting to get annoyed. I want this number it would be so usefull to put you in contact with nhs direct (medical) police (local)

    but i disagree with many of you about the NHS i have two small children and it is nice to get some advice sometimes e.g. with first child they called us back to discuss breast feeding issues, so its not all bad.

    The only problem is all us brits call up and say

    Brit "i cut myself very badly and im bleeding"

    Operator "can you put a plaster on it?"

    Brit "nah its really bad"

    Operator "well go the hospital ?!!"

  40. Pabs

    NHS Direct is good.

    I have had to use this, but for nothing too serious. Its great for out of hours too, must admit I had to google for their number :) The service its self if good for advice, just theres plenty of idiots who abuse the service or have no common sense

  41. SilverWave

    NHS Direct - Good Service Good Idea.

    Yeah I was surprised as well but its all good and much appreciated.

    The 111 number would be a great idea.

    Wait wait - I'm agreeing that the government and the NHS have had a good idea and executed it well ....

    I think I need a sit down...

  42. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

    @AC 9th July 2009 16:56 GMT...

    ... it's time for you to leave NHS Direct, you arrogant tosser, so that someone that actually wants to deal with people can get a job. You have too many issues of your own to be dealing with troubled people. (Note - I speak as an ex-psychiatric nurse of over 20 years experience - one who had to leave the profession due to back injury). Deal with them, or you lose any right to sympathy when someone sues you - which could be any day now, with any luck.

    Possibly because of my previous career, I've used NHS Direct a couple of times when I was fairly sure I had serious illness (acute apendicitis and serious infection from a cat-bite), but wanted to be sure that I was not exaggerating before dialling ambulances/rolling up to A&E/calling the GP deputising service in the middle of the night. By your rating, AC, I'm "Barry Braindead" - well, stuff you, arsehole. That is appropriate use of the service, especially since we are all being told not to misuse the other services. Getting a cheap, quick second opinion is logical and appropriate. In each case, the person on the other end of the phone was efficient, caring, and willing to listen. Personally, therefore, I think it is a Good Thing. I could wish the number was a bit easier to remember, though it ain't really that difficult, and I think putting into a the standard format of eleven digits would be better (it never seems to be right to finish "short").

    *Icon just in case its a troll

  43. ICPurvis47

    Land Line Equivalents

    The land line number for the Scottish NHS Direct (08454 242424) is 0141 337 4501, why isn't there an equivalent land line number for the English version (0845 4647)? People who do not have access to a BT line, such as those in rented accommodation or others who rely on their mobile will find that calls to these so-called "Lo-Call" numbers are charged at exorbitant rates, 35p.min is not unusual.

  44. W

    888 is a title?

    888 for cases relating to NHS/Police/Fire that don't warrant a 999 call?

    It's gotta be the easiest thing in the world to remember and the easiest thing in the world to market. Reasons why not?

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