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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 15:26 GMT
Health care goes online
NHS Direct
Trained nurses provide advice 24 hours a day
An NHS service allowing patients to receive advice at home via the internet has been launched by the government.

Details of an internet version of the NHS Direct service and an extended telephone advice line were unveiled on Tuesday.

To view the NHS Direct Online website click here

The existing NHS Direct telephone service - currently operating in 40% of England - is to be extended to cover 65% of the country.

Patients can ring up one of 17 call centres nationwide and describe their symptoms to a trained nurse who will then advise whether the condition needs medical attention, or can be self-treated.

The site has a click-able body map with details of conditions
The announcement confirms plans announced earlier this year by the then Health Secretary Frank Dobson.

The new NHS Direct web site will help people get up to date information on common illnesses.

They will also be able to use a simple questionaire to determine whether they need to see a doctor.

The website will include:

  • Information about NHS Direct
  • An interactive healthcare guide
  • information on healthy living
  • Conditions and treatments
  • An A-Z guide to the NHS
  • A health in the news section featuring current, timely issues

It is hoped that the web site will eventually include doctors and nurses answering questions online.

And, in the future, once web cameras and digital imaging become more common, patients and medics will be able to see each other, allowing enabling rudimentary consultations to take place.

The Department of Health says it will provide access to the site in public places such as libraries and hospitals.

In the modern NHS, services aren't just available in hospitals or family doctors' surgeries, they can be available in people's own homes

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Health Secretary Alan Milburn told the BBC: "In the modern NHS, services aren't just available in hospitals or family doctors' surgeries, they can be available in people's own homes."

He denied that the service could eventually replace the out-of-hours GP services currently offered.

"GPs will always provide special care for patients, but very often, people want information about their own health.

"They want to be able to spot health problems and deal with their own health problems."

There will be links to other accredited sites, and the site will be updated and extended over time.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking on a visit to Bootle Strand shopping centre in Merseyside, said: "NHS Direct can become a symbol of both modern health care and fair health care.

"It will increase people's confidence in being able to manage their own health.

"In time we expect NHS Direct Online to be one of the most popular and widely used Internet sites in the UK."

The NHS Direct Scheme was launched last year in three areas - Newcastle, Preston and Milton Keynes.

Relieves pressure on GPs

The aim was to relieve pressure on hard-pressed GPs and casualty departments by providing members of the public with information.

Since its launch last April, NHS Direct has taken more than 800,000 calls and is expected to reach a million by the end of the year.

Monitoring of the service has shown that one-third of callers to the helpline are directed to a different level of care than they had anticipated when they first contacted it.

Around 35% were directed to less urgent forms of treatment than they thought necessary and 20% were urged to take more urgent action.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, said NHS Direct could make an "important contribution" to easing the demand for GPs.

He added: "But we will not know how effective NHS Direct is until it has been evaluated to see whether it is helping to manage demand, is enabling people to use the NHS more appropriately, is leading to improved outcomes and is good value for money."

But shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "This is just another PR stunt by the Prime Minister.

"Tony Blair's goal is to divert attention away from the real problems in the NHS which his Government has created and should be tackling."

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
Advice on 200 diseases online
Alan Milburn Health secretary
"People want to be better informed about their own health"
The BBC's Richard Hannaford reports
"Trained nurses provide advice 24 hours a day over the phone to anyone who needs it"
See also:

07 Dec 99 | Health
The future of 'e-medicine'
27 Feb 99 | Health
NHS helpline to go national
13 Apr 99 | Health
PM backs high street healthcare
02 Feb 99 | Health
Nurse advice line extended
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