A bi-lingual telephone service designed to help heart and diabetes patients stay healthy is being launched in Birmingham today.

The pioneering scheme, the first of its kind in Britain, will target 2,000 people with cardiovascular disease, heart failure or diabetes, to help them manage their condition more effectively.

Birmingham OwnHealth will be manned by NHS Direct nurses who will be given a list of patients to call, to offer advice and support in English or Punjabi.

Up to 2,000 people living in the North and Eastern Birmingham Primary Care Trusts boundaries will be able to access the service.

Initially the project will target patients living in the Oscott, Kingstanding, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green but may be extended to other parts of the city in future.

Recent figures published by the British Heart Foundation revealed that Asian men and women face a 50 per cent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, with 20 per cent being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes compared with three per cent of UK population.

Nearly three in ten (27 per cent) of people in Birmingham have a limiting, long-standing illness and the city has the highest rate of heart disease in the West Midlands.

Each patient will be designated their own care manager, an NHS Direct nurse, who will help them get the best results from treatment programmes already agreed with their GPs or consultants.

Andrew Donald, director of policy and redesign for North and Eastern Birmingham PCTs, said: "By offering a bi-lingual service in English and Punjabi, we can proactively reach out even further into our local communities, helping people to get the best from Birmingham's health care services and help themselves towards better health."

Dr Mike Sadler, chief operating officer for NHS Direct, said: "Once outside the GP surgery, many people want an additional source of support.

"Working in partnership with local GPs and healthcare professionals, Birmingham OwnHealth's care managers will give people ongoing support and encouragement to manage their condition, embrace healthier behaviour and ultimately enjoy better health."