Malcolm Chisholm, Scotland’s health minister, has confirmed that the roll-out of the NHS 24 , the Scottish version of the English flagship patient helpline NHS Direct, will proceed across Scotland – despite reported teething problems with the pilot project in the North-east.

Mr Chisholm made the comments at the launch of the second NHS 24 call centre in Aberdeen this week.

The £30 million service was launched in the Grampian Health Board area three months ago and hailed as a major step forward in delivering out-of-hours services. However, the service has been criticised during its pilot phase.

In August Grampian Local Medical Committee (LMC), which represents 360 family doctors in the area, claimed some callers had to wait up to 30 minutes before they could contact a nurse. The LMC also expressed concerns that the service had still to cover practices in rural areas.

NHS trusts in Lanarkshire and North Glasgow have both cited the launch of the nurse-run advice service in Grampian — which employs sixty staff — as exacerbating staff shortages. The trusts suggest that nurses have been leaving for higher graded positions at NHS 24.

According to a report in the Scotsman Mr Chisholm said: "The teething problems were not of any significance."

Chisholm said the initial problems as "temporary hiccups" that had been overcome. He stressed that the slow development of NHS 24 in Scotland, by comparison to the development of NHS Direct in England, was deliberate, designed to ensure that lessons were learned and incorporated.

NHS 24 will be extended across the north of Scotland over the next few months with a second call centre opening in Glasgow before the end of the year, extending into Ayrshire in spring 2003.

In January this year NHS 24 awarded a ten-year deal to BT to provide the telephone communications systems that will underpin the new service and integrate it with electronic patient records.