A phone number for people who need urgent but not emergency medical help is being launched in Sussex next year.

The free 111 number is the NHS equivalent of the police and fire service’s 101 which was introduced earlier this year.

The aim is to ease pressure on 999 calls and make room for genuine emergencies.

The system in Sussex is to be run by South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust (Secamb) in partnership with GP out-of-hours service Harmoni.

When someone phones 111, a call handler, who is trained the same way as a 999 operator, will assess the call and make an immediate decision on what to do next.

They will send an ambulance if necessary, put someone straight through to a nurse, book an out-of-hours GP appointment, or direct the caller to a pharmacist or dentist.

It is different to the NHS Direct advice line as patients will not need to wait for a call back from a nurse or doctor.

It also does not have the capacity to ask for an ambulance or book an appointment.

NHS chief executive Amanda Fadero said: “I look forward to working with Secamb and Harmoni to make NHS 111 a reality.”

Secamb chief executive Paul Sutton said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this contract in partnership with Harmoni.

“It has always been our intention to be the single point of success for patients needing emergency or urgent care.

We believe that an ambulance service in partnership with an out-of-hours provider provides a strong and safe platform to realise this ambition.”

The number, which will come into operation in April, will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.