Scotland’s NHS 24 is changing its health advice line phone number to 111.

Its 0845 number will be replaced by 111 in April next year and will be free to call from a landline or mobile.

England is launching a similar service called NHS 111 from April this year, replacing NHS Direct’s 0845 telephone service.

NHS 24 handles around 1.5m calls a year from patients in Scotland when their GP surgery is closed. It costs the same as a local call or more if from a mobile or non-BT landline.

A community activist with The Poverty Alliance, Caroline Mockford, petitioned the Scottish parliament about the cost of the service after being charged £8 for calling NHS 24 from a mobile phone.

“My research showed that 33% of mobile only phone users indicated that cost would be a barrier to them accessing NHS 24 and if they had no credit in their phone they would have to phone 999,” she commented.

“The introduction of a 111 number in 2014 will save people having to dial 999 and I also believe it will have a knock on impact on the number of people attending accident and emergency inappropriately."

Scottish Health Secretary, Alex Neil, said: “I strongly believe that our NHS should be free at the point of contact and this new number is about ensuring that this applies to those who seek support and advice from NHS 24."