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The Department of Health is trialling an NHS 111 online service as part of a plan to provide a service to complement locally driven telephone services.

The department plans to have rolled out the 111 helpline by April 2013. It is supposed to replace NHS Direct as the first port of call for patients with urgent, but not life-threatening, symptoms.

A report on the progress of the pilot, which has been running for a couple of weeks, is due in September, those close to the project say.

A cross-disciplinary team of representatives from across the NHS – including NHS Direct, the Department of Health and NHS Choices – is working on the local pilot. The team will be looking at the options for delivering the NHS 111 service through digital channels. Local clinicians, commissioners and the ambulance service are also involved in the pilot.

The pilot will be trialled with a small group of users in selected areas, integrated to the existing online health and symptom checkers at www.nhs.uk/nhsdirect.

A project report will be used to inform the Department of Health on its options for consideration as part of a national specification for digital services.

The Department of Health said of the pilot: "The Department of Health has made a commitment to provide the NHS 111 service online by April 2013, alongside the telephone service. We are currently working with the NHS, including the NHS Direct and NHS Choices team on a local pilot to look at the options for delivering an NHS 111 service through digital channels."

News of the online plans follow a report that a number of private sector government service providers had chosen not to bid for the multimillion pound replacement programme to provide a new 24-hour 111 helpline. Although Capita would not confirm or deny that it had withdrawn from the tender process, it outlined its reservations in a statement.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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