A TRANSPARENT gel which can improve the appearance of unsightly scars will go on sale to the general public for the first time today.

The adhesive gel sheet, containing an advanced form of silicone, causes red, raised scars to flatten and fade over a period of two to four months. After that time, although some evidence of scarring remains, the ugly red weal will be gone. Trials have indicated that the improvement is permanent.

Cica-Care, made by the London-based pharmaceutical company Smith & Nephew, is used in hospitals to treat scarring caused by burns, injuries or surgery. It will be sold over the counter at selected Boots stores in the form of 12cm by 6cm sheets, costing pounds 35 each.

NHS DIRECT, the 24-hour telephone advice line which is staffed by nurses, is now up and running in three pilot areas - Lancashire, Milton Keynes and Newcastle. Designed to ease pressure on accident and emergency departments, it is planned to cover the whole country by 2000.

At yesterday's launch, Frank Dobson, health secretary, admitted it could mean more people going to the already overstretched casualty departments.

Contact NHS Direct on 0845 1888.

ONE OF the most distressing aspects of lung cancer - breathlessness - can be relieved if patients receive help with practical breathing techniques and emotional support to overcome their fear of being unable to breathe.

A study in six hospitals by Macmillan Cancer relief found 27 per cent of those who received help said their ability to carry out activities, such as climbing stairs and walking, improved. In contrast 70 per cent who did not receive help said they had got worse.

A NEW drug and vaccine against tuberculosis should be in development by 2003, Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of GlaxoWellcome, said yesterday.

Announcing a further pounds 10 million of funding over the next five years for the company's Action TB project, Sir Richard said: "The task now is to make a difference in the clinic, not just in the laboratory."

OLDER people are being left in pain and are in some cases housebound because of a shortage of chiropody services, according to Age Concern.

One third of chiropody units do not provide a simple toenail-cutting service and in some areas demand has more than doubled. Many older people cannot care for their own feet because of arthritis or worsening eyesight.