Junior health minister Gisela Stuart has announced a £1m expansion of the mental health work of NHS Direct.

At a conference to mark the second anniversary of the nurse-led telephone helpline, Ms Stuart, pictured right, said the money would be used to provide every site with a mental health lead worker, supported by a specialist national team, to provide information and make links with local services.

Ms Stuart also said there was 'major scope' for NHS Direct to 'help take the pressure off ambulances by dealing with non-urgent category-C calls.

The government will 'move forward' in the light of pilot sites in the West Midlands, south London, Thames Valley, Manchester and Essex.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Christine Hancock welcomed 'the potential of NHS Direct's proactive future - when nurses initiate the calls'.

She said NHS Outbound, a new service where nurses call to check on patients who have just come out of hospital, was an example of this.