GPs Have Alternatives To 0844 Numbers Says Campaigning MP

Graham Stuart MP

Local MP, , the member for and Holderness, is continuing his longstanding campaign against the use of higher rate phone numbers by public services.

Graham helped convince the last Government to ban GP surgeries from signing new contracts using 0844 style numbers, has encouraged surgeries to provide cheaper alternatives but is disappointed that not all are doing so. He has championed the issue by tabling Parliamentary Questions across departments. He secured a Parliamentary Debate in January 2008 which can be read at http://tinyurl.com/qeydejy.

Graham says;

“It’s outrageous that patients have been fleeced for so long. Charging enhanced rates simply to call their doctor is just plain wrong. It’s great that GPs were banned from signing new revenue sharing phone contracts – but that isn’t helping the patients of some GPs who still have old contracts in place. Many are struggling to pay their bills and keep afloat.”

“I don’t want them being forced to ring an 0844 number when they need medical help. The most likely to need to ring the GP for an appointment are the very ones who can least afford a big bill for doing so – the elderly, the disabled, the long-term sick. I want to see GPs get out of their existing revenue-sharing 0844 telephone contracts right now or offer a local number for their patients to ring instead. Some GPs are already doing this – South Holderness Medical Practice in , for example, offers a local number for patients to ring alongside the higher rate one.

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“All our GPs need to offer an alternative cheap option for patients ringing in, and the good is that it can be done. Some GPs said that they moved to 0844 numbers because that was the only way they could allow their patients to queue to speak to the receptionist rather than just getting the engaged tone. But local geographic numbers with call-queuing facilities are available.”

“In addition, some 0844 telephone providers are allowing GPs to switch to cheap 03 numbers in the middle of their contracts. So I have written to NHS England today to ask them to make sure all GPs still using 0844 numbers urgently seek alternatives.”

“No one should be put off calling their doctor because of the cost of the call. I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that every surgery is accessible and no one is charged a penal rate.”



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This article has 1 Comment

  1. Adding a cheap number alongside the expensive number does not solve the problem. Anyone not aware of the alternative number continues to pay the higher rate.

    Additionally, in the majority of cases where an alternative number has already been installed, this is usually a single line that returns the engaged tone when one caller is already on it. This is in contrast to the call queueing system in place on the 0844 number which can handle dozens or hundreds of calls at once. Except for prescription and other specific fees approved by Parliament, the NHS does not allow a two-tier system based on patient’s willingness or ability to pay.

    The GMS contract says that GPs must “ensure” that people do not pay more to call them than to make an equivalent call to an 01 or 02 number. The only way to achieve this to switch the 0844 number OFF.

    The 0844 numbers used by GPs usually cost 5p to 12p/min (plus 15p connection fee) from landlines and 20p to 41p/min from mobiles. These calls are not inclusive within call allowances in packages. 0844 calls incur a Service Charge from about 2p to 7p/min. The 0844 numbers used by GPs are at the upper end of that range.

    The 0844 number comes as part of a package with some switchboard equipment paid for on a very long lease. The call recipient uses the money derived from the Service Charge to pay for call handling and routing at their end. Any excess (usually about 2p/min) is paid out as “revenue share” and this money contributes to paying the equipment lease.

    GPs were sold these systems as “self funding”. This is a euphamism for “patients are paying for it through stealth charges on their phone bills”. However, GPs should not end their contract or lease for this equipment. Doing that invokes huge penalties (often tens of thousands of pounds).

    GPs should simply change their telephone number from 0844 to either 0300 or 0344. This option has been available since 2007. 03 numbers are charged the same as 01 and 02 calls and always count towards inclusive allowances. This applies to all mobiles and landlines. There is no Service Charge within the 03 call price and revenue sharing is not permitted.

    There is NO charge for altering the telephone number and this can be done at any time during the life of the phone services contract. However, after number change, GPs must pay their own bills for call handling and pay for the lease. Patients no longer fund these things through illegal subsidies.

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