What are NHS medical advice websites?

NHS medical sites are a useful way for looking up reliable and safe information about medical issues as well as the location of services such as hospitals, doctors and dentists in your area.

A stethoscope sitting on a laptop and tablet
There are four NHS websites specific to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is safer to use an NHS website for looking up health information than to rely on a general internet search. If you search certain medical conditions using an open search on the internet, you may receive inaccurate advice and unwelcome information such as adverts for costly products.

If you are likely to feel anxious when looking up symptoms and reading about a medical condition online, it may be best to use the 24 hour NHS 111 phone line (if available in your area), or speak to your doctor, nurse  or consultant first.

The NHS websites are simple to use with a wide range of devices including phones and tablets as well computers and using a keyboard.  Each NHS advice website has a search option at the top, and an A-Z index for looking up medical conditions.

NHS 111 online

This website is aimed at helping people in England to get specific advice based on their symptoms. It can provide advice about where to go for further help and whether to call 111 for advice from a nurse or to call 999 for an ambulance. It can be used to find out what to do if you can't see your usual doctor or dentist too.

NHS 111 online has a very simple design. You need a postcode or location in England to be able to use it. A temporary location in England such as a holiday address is also fine.

You type in your postcode or select the "use my location" link, then answer a series of simply worded questions about your symptoms to get relevant advice.

There is a separate 111 service for Scotland - see NHS 24.  Currently in Wales, the 111 service is available only in certain areas - see NHS Direct Wales.

NHS Apps Library

This is a new website for listing health related apps that have been screened for "quality, safety and effectiveness". Some of the apps listed are produced by the NHS, but most are not and are free to install. Some may charge for additional or premium features through in app purchases (this means buying an add on feature after installing and opening up the app). It is made clear on the website when an app is free or not. Some of the listed apps are available for free on prescription for patients living in England only.

There is a search function and an index including topics such as cancer, diabetes, healthy living and mental health.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the Health and Social Care online website helps in locating medical and social care services.

The NI direct (GP out of hours service) service is aimed at terminally ill people, very sick children, frail older people and emergency dental patients (rather than anyone with a health query).

Northern Ireland does not yet have a full health information website to match NHS Online, NHS 24 or NHS Direct Wales, but any of these can be used for looking up medical conditions. There is not yet a 24 hour telephone or 111 service in Northern Ireland.