April 25 2014 Latest news:

The ongoing battle to stop patients paying to call their GP reached parliament this week.

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Thousands of people are being duped into paying out when they call their doctors’ surgeries to book appointments or discuss repeat prescriptions, according to campaigners.

The row, which centres around the type of phone number you dial when calling the surgery, has been going on for years and shows no sign of abating.

Numbers such as those beginning with 0844 and 0845, can cost callers more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number.

This week in the House of Commons, Rugby MP Mark Pawsey asked what guidance the health department issued on the use by GP surgeries of premium rate telephone numbers.

Health minister Anne Milton said; “The department has amended the general medical services regulations to prohibit GP practices from using telephone numbers that charge patients more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to contact the NHS.

“Since April this year, GPs have not been allowed to use a number that charges patients more than the cost of an equivalent geographical call.”

But Mr Pawsey pointed out that nevertheless he had a constituent who was concerned about the additional charges incurred by patients when contacting the surgery by phone, particularly by mobile phone.

Primary care trusts have been put under pressure to resolve the confusion and the concerns over the practice of using such numbers, but campaigners say hundreds of surgeries are breaking the rules.

David Hickson, a leading campaigner on the subject, said: “This unambiguous clarification of some very simple words should cause those who have been seeking for PCTs to misunderstand their duties to change their approach.

“PCTs have the clarity that they have been waiting for. They can now easily dismiss attempts to fudge the terms of the requirements. If GPs are under contract for a system which requires a non-geographic number, they can switch to the equivalent 034 number at any time.

“There is no reason why the NHS could not be free of the need to call 084 numbers within a few months.”

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