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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 10:45 GMT
NHS ban on top rate phone lines
Image of a GP
Hundreds of GP surgeries are using 0870 numbers
NHS organisations will be banned from setting up new premium and national rate telephone numbers for patients contacting local services.

GP practices currently using national rate phone lines will be expected to switch to low rate numbers.

The move, which comes into effect from April, was announced on Thursday by Health Minister John Hutton.

Around 290 GP practices had established national rate lines, which charge up to 7.5p per minute.

These were being used to take patient appointments and for requesting repeat prescriptions.

Special numbers
National rate telephone numbers start with an 087 prefix
Premium rate telephone numbers start with the digits 09
The only special service numbers the NHS will be able to use in future are freephone numbers or those that offer patients a guaranteed low rate call
These include 0845 or 0844 numbers
Mr Hutton said: "Sick people and their families should not be asked to pay over the odds to contact local NHS services.

"The use of premium and national rate telephone numbers is an unfair additional cost for many NHS patients."

Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, welcomed the move.

He said: "Many patients were contacting us as calls were so expensive, particularly when surgeries were busy or engaged."

The ban will also apply to NHS dentists, NHS opticians and GP out of hours service providers.

However, dentists will have until the summer to comply with the new rules.

Pharmacies will remain able to use premium rate numbers to support their private commercial activities.

Doctors' response

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GP Committee, said: "The BMA is sympathetic to the view that patients should not be charged over the odds for contacting their family doctor.

"A relatively small number of GP practices use 0870 numbers, as do some other NHS bodies.

"Some of the GP practices involved were encouraged to switch to 0870 systems by their primary care organisation.

"By introducing 0870 telephone systems, practices will have benefitted from improved equipment installed with the aim of ensuring patients were able to get through to the practice quickly, deliver their message or request speedily, and in general spend less time on the telephone than with previous systems."

Dr Meldrum welcomed government plans to reimburse GPs who have to switch phone lines, up to a cost of 500.


SEE ALSO:
GP 0870 numbers could be banned
01 Feb 05 |  Health


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