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IF YOUR child has a temperature and you can’t get hold of your doctor, then calling a new healthcare number could point you in the right direction.

That’s just one example of how people should use the NHS 111 number, which has been launched in Hampshire.

As previously reported, the free three-digit number has now replaced NHS Direct, and should be used if medical help is needed quickly, but it is not a 999 emergency.

Sarah Elliott, director of nursing for primary care trust cluster Ship, which covers Portsmouth and Hampshire, said: ‘NHS 111 is the number to call for all health issues that don’t require an ambulance.

‘For many people the right place to go can be confusing, especially if you’re experiencing a health concern and your GP surgery is closed. Calling 111 will identify the right place to go, using a system designed by doctors.’

The service is being delivered by South Central Ambulance Service, which won a five-year contract, costing £20m.

A team of advisers, supported by trained paramedics and nurses will assess the caller’s symptoms, through a series of questions using a system of medical questioning called NHS Pathways.

At the end of the phone call, a number of options could be available to the caller, including referring them to their GP, going to a walk-in centre, or calling for an ambulance to go to hospital.

The call handlers are based in Otterbourne in Hampshire and have been going through training for several months.

Mark Rowell, head of 111 south for Scas, said: ‘Having a highly-trained 111 team, I would urge anyone with an urgent, but not life-threatening, illness or health concern to contact us for advice.

‘The service is open 24 hours a day and will help people find the right place to go for treatment.

‘This includes referring patients to out-of-hours doctors, advising them to make an appointment with their own doctor or advising them to attend at a minor injuries unit for example.

‘So, if you’re worried about your child’s temperature, or need urgent health advice, then call 111 to speak to the team who will assess and help you straight away.’

It is hoped NHS 111 will help alleviate pressure from people calling 999 and an ambulance being sent out unnecessarily.