A new non-emergency phone number for people needing medical care is being trialled.
People in the north east of England can dial 111 to get health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24 chemists.
NHS County Durham and Darlington primary care trusts are piloting the free 24-hour service, which is intended to relieve pressure on 999.
It will be tried out later this year in Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Luton.
Manned by a team of trained advisers, the service is to be used "if you need help quickly and can't wait for an appointment with your GP or don't know who to call".
The advice adds: "If we think you need an ambulance, we will send one immediately - just as if you had originally dialled 999."
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said earlier this summer the 111 number was part of a drive to improve patients' access to urgent care services and to "end the confusion over what services are available when".
Professor Stephen Singleton, medical director of NHS North East, said: "The introduction of the NHS 111 service in County Durham and Darlington is an important part of our regional vision to improve access to urgent healthcare for local people.
"By better understanding what people really need from different local services, 111 will enable the commissioning of more effective and productive health care.
"Most importantly it will help improve efficiency across the whole health care system by reducing unnecessary waste and making sure people get access to the right service, first time."