GPs urged to ban 084 phone numbers
Monday 4th November 2013, 5:10PM GMT.
Health bosses have called on GPs to stop forcing patients to book appointments through expensive phone numbers.
Patients should not have to dial pricey 084 numbers when trying to reach their family doctors, NHS England said.
Around one in every 12 practices still use the higher-rate numbers, a spokeswoman said.
In April 2010 new rules came into force meaning that GP practices could no longer enter new telephone contracts using the expensive phone lines. But many practices had entered into long-term agreements to use the phone numbers, NHS England said.
Writing to local health bodies to remind them of the rules, NHS England warned that practices will be in breach of contract if they do not take all reasonable steps to stop their patients being asked to use 084 numbers.
“Most GPs entered into these contracts for the additional services they offer to patients,” said NHS England’s head of primary care Dr David Geddes.
” But these numbers can and do cost people significantly more – especially those using pay-as-you-go mobiles, who are statistically most likely to be the most deprived.
“If GPs are not doing everything they can to change, then they are not providing an equitable service and are in breach of their contracts. We expect our area teams to use their local understanding and authority to make sure appropriate action is taken wherever GPs are not making this a priority.”
NHS England’s deputy medical director Dr Mike Bewick added: “This is a health equalities issue. There is a real risk that more financially secure patients will wait on hold to get an appointment, no matter how much it costs them, where a poorer patient will be forced to hang up because they can’t afford the cost of the call, and not receive treatment because of that.”
David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms Campaign, said: “GP services represent the front door of the NHS, our most valued public service. We are delighted that national action is being taken to end the use of 084 numbers by GPs in England. We will continue to support this work being extended across the NHS, throughout the UK and to all other taxation-funded services.”
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “People should not have to pay a premium to make an appointment to see their GP, or be faced with a high phone bill if they have to wait on hold.
“Our Costly Calls campaign wants all companies and public bodies, including GPs and NHS dentists, to provide either freephone or local rate numbers for their customer service and complaints telephone lines.”