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UK Government Launches NHS Direct Online

The government has launched NHS Direct online, the first comprehensive gateway to health information on the Internet in the UK.

The new Internet service is in addition to the existing NHS Direct phone service, which itself is being expanded to 65 per cent of the country.

"NHS Direct online will provide access to clear, reliable, information to people in their own home," said Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn.

"It will provide information about the NHS, and how to use its services, facts and advice on health stories in the national press, and pages on 200 specific diseases and their treatment. 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.

Prime Minister Tony Blair lent his support to the launch during his tour of the North. He said more and more people were now becoming familiar with using the Internet, not just the younger generation.

The government plans to extend the new service to full interactivity at a later date. Alan Milburn said that patients will be able to join online discussion groups about health problems, and eventually have online video consultations.

The new service will be available initially to people at home via their Internet service providers, but by next year there are expected to be hundreds of access points around the country, in pharmacies and supermarkets.

The British Medical Association welcomed the launch as being a big step forward in the provision of health information in the UK.