A new "111" number that provides non-urgent healthcare advice has been launched for trial in County Durham and Darlington.
The new hotline has been developed to ensure NHS patients have access to medical advice if their GP is unavailable or if an emergency call is not needed.
If successful, it could become a permanent feature of the NHS's patient support service, running alongside the traditional 999 hotline for patients in need of non-emergency care.
NHS County Durham and Darlington said the new phone number will ease the pressure on ambulance and emergency services while providing more appropriate healthcare advice that is relevant to a patient's needs.
Professor Stephen Singleton, Medical Director of NHS North East, said: "The introduction of the NHS 111 service in County Durham and Darlington is an important part of our regional vision to improve access to urgent healthcare for local people.
"By better understanding what people really need from different local services, 111 will enable the commissioning of more effective and productive healthcare.
"Most importantly it will help improve efficiency across the whole healthcare system by reducing unnecessary waste and making sure people get access to the right service, first time."
Health authorities in Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Luton will be the next to trial the new hotline, rolling it out later this year.