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Fears that Britain is becoming a nation of hypochondriacs increased yesterday after the Government revealed that one and a half million people visited a new health site on its first day of operation. The site is an extension of a 24-hour telephone helpline that enables people to get in touch with health professionals without necessarily having to visit their local doctor or hospital. Announcing the figures, Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, said the interest in the NHS Direct On-Line Web site vindicated the Government's decision to provide the additional service. "[It] certainly is not the 'gimmick' that some people have claimed," he said. "Alongside the NHS Direct telephone advice service, ours is the only health care system in the world to have this sort of integrated access to expert phone advice and information in published form through the telephone and Internet," said Milburn. NHS Direct On-Line provides information about the NHS including how to use its services, facts and advice on health stories in the national press, and pages on 200 specific diseases and their treatment. The service will be made available in hundreds of pharmacies and supermarkets up and down the country next year giving access to those who don't have Net access at home, he Government said. ®

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