The NHS Direct contact telephone number is 0845 4647 in England and Wales. The telephone service aims to triage symptomatic callers to provide guidance on which healthcare provider the caller should access. Nurses also give advice on how to manage an episode of illness at home. Health Information Advisors can provide information on a wide range of medical conditions, treatments, medicines and NHS services and can provide guidance on NHS policy and procedures. In some areas of England and Wales, NHS Direct is commissioned by local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to provide the gateway for out-of-hours access to GP's surgeries and clinics, and also to emergency and routine NHS dentistry. Dental Advisors may advise callers to take painkillers and can provide information about out of hours dental services.
The service cost about £230m to set up. The cost per call is £18 which is the same as it costs for a GP to see a patient face to face. Up to 70% of calls require referral to either a GP or A&E department and 999 calls have doubled in some areas since introduction of the service. The service has been shown to reduce the impact on GP out of hours services, ambulance services and A&E attendance. Some NHS Ambulance trusts use the service to deal with Category C (Cat C(Non-emergency)) cases
On calling the telephone service, a Health Adviser will take the caller's details and will then establish the reason for calling. Calls are forwarded to a Nurse, Dental Advisor or Health Information Advisor as appropriate. Health Information Advisors endeavour to return some calls within 20 minutes but sometimes callers may wait for up to 4 hours. On some occasions these targets are not met due to this service being available between certain hours. Nurse Advisors will be connected directly to urgent callers and aim to return non-urgent calls as soon as possible but, at busy times, the call-backs can take several hours; it is not uncommon at weekends for a call-back to take four hours. Dental Advisors aim to call patients back within two hours.