Health bosses have pledged to continue to make improvements to the NHS 111 telephone helpline as commissioners agree a new contract for the service.
Current providers - the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust - will operate the new service under a five-year contract to start in October.
The service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping patients who need medical help fast but do not need to call 999 – as well as anyone who is unsure which service to use.
Dr Neil O’Brien, Chair of the Northern Clinical Commissioning Groups Forum, said: “NHS 111 is a vital part of the urgent and emergency care system in the North East, and helps over 800,000 patients every year to get the care they need.
“The new service builds on this success, including a clinical assessment service meaning patients can conclude their call with advice, a prescription or an appointment for further assessment or treatment.”
A recent survey showed 88% of patients using NHS 111 saying they would be likely or extremely likely to recommend the service.
The new service is designed to ensure that most patients’ problems are dealt with on their first call - including a consultation with a clinician where that is needed.
Staff will also have access to a range of real-time information, including a summary of GP-held patient records, and details of local services such as GP extended hours schemes and community pharmacies.
Gerardine Hope, service manager for the North East Ambulance Service, said: “We have a fantastic record of success and continue to deliver a safe, effective, caring and compassionate service.
“None of this would be possible without our outstanding team who want to do the best for the patients of the North East. We are incredibly proud to have been awarded this contract and to know that the people of the North East can continue to rely on us for at least the next five years.”
Last year NEAS handled 858,224 calls to NHS 111, including 95,142 in December alone.
NEAS currently handles an average of 64,000 calls every month, and is leading the way nationally in providing directly bookable appointments with local GPs.
Yvonne Ormston, chief executive of the North East Ambulance Service, said: “This new service builds upon the work we have already started and we look forward to further developing the service with support from colleagues across the region.”