The NHS Confederation's ambulance network has called for an 888 number to make it easier for people to access appropriate care.

The network wants to see a new single point of access to simplify what patients say is a complex system. This would work alongside better training and new highly skilled roles for paramedics treating life-threatening emergencies.

A paper published by the network states: "A new easily remembered national telephone number - perhaps 888 or 247 - should be piloted to assess the potential to further simplify access, improve public awareness and support the more effective co-ordination of care."

Callers to the new service would be assessed by trained staff with access to a directory of services, including out-of-hours GPs, walk-in clinics, social services and emergency services.

Not only would it simplify access but it would also highlight gaps in service, with data fed back to primary care trusts and practice-based commissioners.

The paper points out that the number of people calling 999 is increasing each year. This is driven not by rising numbers of patients with critical illness requiring an emergency response but by people with long-term conditions who often do not know where else to turn.

It argues that regional ambulance services have provided some novel solutions, such as clinical audit reporting systems and new telephone-based triage, which it recommends rolling out.

Network director Liz Kendall said: "One of the big things driving PCTs' commissioning is to deliver better care for people with long-term conditions. The ambulance service can help PCTs and the rest of the NHS to deliver on that big objective."

The calls for an 888 number are in line with the recommendations of strategic health authorities in the regional Darzi reports, she added. "They pretty much all call for a single point of access. The vital thing is that it is linked to an appropriate response."

See "Regions braced for change as plans put Darzi's vision on map"