From today ambulance services across England will be able to direct patients to GPs or other health services when they call 999 but do not need an ambulance.

The scheme, called NHS Pathways, follows a two year trial in the North East.

Patients not needing emergency treatment were instead offered health advice or a referral to more a appropriate local service such as an urgent care centre. This meant ambulances did not need to be dispatched.

The North East trial found that 93 per cent of patients who did not need an ambulance were happy with the alternative treatment they received.

Range of options

Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Out of hours care has changed dramatically over the last few years with extended GP opening hours, walk-in centres and minor injuries units offering a range of options.

"It is important that patients get the right treatment at the right time, whether this is a rapid ambulance response or referral to local out of hours services. We're giving the local NHS a choice of how 999 calls are answered to ensure patients are getting the most out of the modern NHS."