NHS Luton has become the third and final pilot area to launch its NHS 111 number for urgent, non-emergency calls.
Luton will trial the service for 12 months, alongside a pilot in NHS Nottingham City and NHS Lincolnshire that began work last month and a pilot in County Durham and Darlington that launched in August.
The government has said the three-digit number will be rolled out nationwide by 2013 and replace the 0845 4647 number for NHS Direct. The precise role of NHS Direct in the new service has yet to be clarified.
NHS Direct is involved in all three 111 pilots and in Luton is delivering the service suing the NHS Pathways clinical assessment tool.
Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said it was working very closely with the East of England Ambulance Service, Care UK, NHS Luton, and NHS East of England.
He added: “NHS Direct is delighted to be working with the other health organisations in Luton to test how we can best deliver the new NHS 111 service there.
"The new, memorable number will make it easier for patients in the local area to access local health services.”
Patients in Luton are being encouraged to call 111 for urgent care needs that are not immediately life threatening.
The Luton service aims to direct people to the service that is best able to meet their needs and to provide immediate medical advice for minor illnesses and injuries.
However, patients are also being reminded that they should call their normal GP surgery for a routine appointment and to call other services direct when they know the number to call.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said the NHS 111 number would simplify services for patients.
He added: “It is essential that we improve access and understanding about urgent care services which include out-of-hours care. At present, too many people are confused about who to contract and how to do so.”
Angela McNab, chief executive of NHS Luton, said she hoped the 111 number would encourage people to think twice about calling for an ambulance or going to the emergency department of their hospital when this was not necessary.
She added: “The new 111 number will be a fantastic service for people living in Luton – it’s free, easy to remember and directs people to the right services quickly when they have an urgent health need.”