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GP surgeries still using premium 084 numbers years after ban

Wednesday, July 30th 2014 by Dean Reilly

Patients at 350 GP surgeries are being forced to use 084 numbers to call their doctor – four years after legislation banned the use of them within the NHS, a new study has claimed.

The Fair Telecoms Campaign has listed 350 surgeries in England that provide 084 contact numbers on National Health Service website NHS Choice instead of a geographic rate number.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, campaign leader David Hickson said: “On the first of April 2011, all use of 084 numbers should have come to an end, but here we are, almost four years on, with the NHS marketing machine still showing expensive numbers.

“The terms were very clear. They were given 12 months to get rid of their expensive numbers, but they didn’t do it. We’ve since won the battle with the Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs. Even the emergency flood line changed from an 084 number – during the floods. NHS England needs to pull their finger out and start jumping on them. It’s just not on.”

Mr Hickson told us that many GP surgeries signed up for telephone system contracts that lasted up to seven years, with subsidies gained by using 084 numbers contributing to the lease of the technology.

He added: “Essentially, the surgeries are getting something cheap and the patient has to pay for it. Many of them had stories about terrible penalty charges if they ended contracts early, but all they had to do was switch their telephone numbers so for the remainder of the contract they take responsibility for all the bill.”

GPs were initially told in April 2010 that they could no longer commit to telephone contracts that would see patients’ calls to surgeries cost them more than a standard rate geographic telephone call of the same duration.

A follow-up letter in November 2011 from Dr David Geddes, Head of Primary Care Commissioning for NHS England told local teams that the “continued use of 084 numbers impacts disproportionately on some members of the public, potentially, those patients who are more vulnerable or who fall into lower socio-economic groups.”

Although approximately 650 surgeries now offer non-084 contact numbers, 350 have failed to provide an alternative. West Yorkshire has 41 surgeries still using 084 lines – the highest number per region in England, with Leicestershire and Lincolnshire showing 40 combined.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “After issuing a letter in November last year, NHS England’s area teams have been working with GP practices to address the use of 084 numbers providing advice and possible options in respect of their contracts with telephone providers.

“A further audit will take place over the summer to see the extent to which this practice has reduced and what barriers exist that prevent the remainder from migrating away from this practice.”

The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom said: "We actively encourage public bodies to use 03 numbers, although we do not have powers to require an organisation to use a certain number. 03 numbers cost no more to call than a geographic number, and must be included in inclusive minutes and discount schemes in the same way.”

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