A NURSING union has criticised plans for a new NHS phone line saying it will result in an inferior service.
NHS 111 will launch nationally next April and aims to make it easier for patients in urgent need to access local health services.
It is advised people use it when they need medical help fast but when it is not a 999 emergency.
But the Northern branch of Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says it will be a “pale shadow” of NHS Direct.
Glenn Turp, RCN Northern regional director, said: “This is a completely misguided, ill-conceived plan, that is wrecking another excellent NHS service.
“It’s not simply a change of phone number, the new service from 111 is significantly inferior.
“The reality is that we are going to see pressure increase on ambulances, A&E wards and GP surgeries, as the nurse-led self care and telephone advice service is effectively lost.
“The public don’t realise that this Government is abolishing NHS Direct. They may have heard of 111, but they think it is basically a re-branding exercise, and that it will still be NHS Direct on the phone. It will not.”
A spokesman for NHS County Durham and Darlington, where the 111 number has been piloted, said: “111 will get you through to a team of fully-trained call advisers who are supported by experienced nurses.
“They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you to the right local service.”
It is hoped the move will stop the confusion surrounding the One Life Hartlepool site in the town’s Park Road where a minor injuries unit replaced the University Hospital of Hartlepool-based A&E department.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the health scrutiny forum, Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “This would be a big step forward and help stop the confusion and the unnecessary suffering of the people of Hartlepool and East Durham.”