The chief executive of NHS Direct wants to significantly shift its operations towards the web, saying the health service needs to leave behind its “1950s bank” approach to services.

Nick Chapman said the National Pandemic Flu Service, set up last year to take demand off GPs at the height of the swine flu outbreak, had shown the potential role internet assessment could play - more than 40 per cent were completed on the website.

At the moment the vast majority of NHS Direct’s work is on the telephone.

But Mr Chapman said: “We want people to look for our services on the web first, and then to be able to access them on the telephone if that is appropriate.”

The phone service would still be available for those who did not want to use the internet first, he said.

Mr Chapman, previously national director of the 18 weeks programme, said the NHS in general needed to provide more services remotely, particularly on the internet.

He described today’s NHS as often like “working in a 1950s bank”.

“We don’t transact through the internet other than to arrange the time a patient is going to come and see us. We all know that needs to change,” he told HSJ.