Medical helpline to go national

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The Independent Online
By Jackie Brown

A 24-HOUR NHS telephone advice line is saving lives and reducing worry for people at home, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday.

Nearly 40,000 people have contacted NHS Direct, which is run by nurses and operates in Preston, Newcastle and Milton Keynes. Next month it will expand to include the Black Country and by the end of 2000 it will cover the whole of England and Wales.

"Early findings have shown that NHS Direct is very popular," Mr Dobson told a reception at the Royal College of Nursing. "They appreciate the round-the-clock access to friendly and reliable advice, which can help to take away the worry when something is wrong.

"And it doesn't just reduce worry; it can save lives. In many instances people have rung NHS Direct for advice and the trained nurses at the other end have been able to diagnose quickly that they needed urgent hospital treatment and dispatch an ambulance."

The service, which costs the price of a local phone call, had also been able to reassure many people that they did not need emergency treatment. While 60 per cent of callers thought that they needed urgent care, only 48 per cent were advised to seek such help.

"Consistently, four out of five people who speak to an NHS Direct nurse are advised to take a different course of action from what they intended," Mr Dobson said. NHS Direct will cost the NHS pounds 14m this year and pounds 44m in 1999-2000.

The law governing the use of human sperm and eggs should be tightened so that the case of Diane Blood, who became pregnant with her dead husband's sperm, will not happen again, says a review of medical consent procedures conducted by the University of Glasgow.

There should be written consent to the removal of any gametes, and those removed unlawfully must not be allowed to be taken abroad.