Scotland politics

Tories call for NHS 24 to be a freephone service

Worker at NHS call centre
Image caption NHS 24 has an 0845 number but the government said it was considering introducing a free service

Calls to NHS 24 should be free of charge, the Scottish Tories have said.

People in Scotland pay the price of a local phone call when calling the advice service from a landline, with calls from a mobile often costing more.

The demand for a free service, by Tory health speaker Jackson Carlaw, comes as Westminster moves to introduce a free, one-stop number in England and Wales.

The Scottish government said it was also considering adopting the new, free-to-use 111 number.

NHS Direct - the equivalent service to NHS 24 in England - is gradually being replaced by the 111 service.

It is already operating in many areas south of the border, and is due to be rolled out across England and Wales this year.

When a patient calls 111, an operator - who is trained in the same way as a 999 operator - can send out an ambulance, put someone straight through to a nurse, book an out-of-hours GP appointment, or direct the caller to a pharmacist or dentist.

'Worse off'

Operators answering calls to the existing NHS Direct service do not have the capacity to request ambulances or book appointments - and patients also receive a separate call back if they need to speak to a nurse or doctor.

Mr Carlaw said: "The SNP has ignored this issue for more than three years now, while the plans for an improved service have gone full steam ahead down south.

"This will be yet another area in health where patients in Scotland will be literally worse off than people elsewhere in the UK seeking vital health advice.

"Not only would this open up access to medical advice to those who may not have used it before, it could bring a number of other benefits.

"In some areas of England they have innovated very successfully, such as some GP practices allowing the 111 service to book emergency appointments with them."

A petition has also been lodged at the Scottish Parliament asking MSPs to urge the government to make calls for NHS 24 free from mobile phones.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Consideration for the adoption of the 111 number, for access to non-emergency healthcare services in Scotland is currently under way, and we expect to make a positive announcement soon.

"Should it be adopted, this number would replace the existing number for NHS 24 - the two key benefits for patients would be that the number is memorable and would be free to call from both a mobile phone and a landline."

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