Patients will be able to dial 111 for non-emergency healthcare if three pilot studies prove successful, the Government has announced.
The free number will be used for accessing help 24 hours a day, seven days a week for situations that do not require 999.
These might include finding a doctor or dentist out-of-hours, help with locating a new dentist, or asking for advice currently provided by NHS Direct.
Clinically-trained staff will assess people immediately, passing the call directly to the ambulance service in an emergency.
The 111 service will be piloted in the North East, the East of England and the East Midlands from next year.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has approved the 111 number following a public consultation.
Nick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct, said: “NHS Direct is looking forward to working with local NHS organisations to pilot the new 111 number.
“We believe that it will increase the access that patients have to the information and advice they need to help themselves and make best use of the NHS.”
The 111 number will not replace existing local telephone numbers or NHS Direct for the time being.
In the future, it could become the single number for non-emergency services, including NHS Direct.
Heather Strawbridge, chair of the Ambulance Service Network, said: “A new phone number for people with urgent but not life-threatening health problems could help transform patient care and is something the Ambulance Service Network had been proposing for some time.
“111 would be easy to remember, simple to use, and help stop people feeling confused about who they should ring when they need help.”