Is this the end of premium rate lines to call your GP NHS orders doctors to drop 40p a minute chargesAt least 1,00 surgeries still use 0844 numbers so patients can check resultsContracts say number should not more than geographical number
22:37 GMT, 26 April 2013
01:59 GMT, 27 April 2013
'title': 'Is this the end of premium rate lines to call your GP NHS orders doctors to drop 40p a minute charges',
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NHS England is in charge of enforcing GP contracts and is taking a tougher stance with GPs
For the first time GPs have been told by the NHS to drop plans to charge patients up to 40p a minute to ring their surgeries.
NHS England told three practices that if they brought in an expensive 0844 number, they would be in breach of their contracts.
Campaigners hailed the tough stance and said they hoped it will end the scandal of millions of patients being forced to pay sky-high phone charges for a service that should be free at the point of use.
At least 1,000 surgeries, with more than six million patients, still use the numbers so patients can book an appointment or check test results. That is despite their contracts saying no phone line should be brought in if it costs more than a normal geographical number.
Following its ruling on three practices in Warrington, Cheshire, NHS England last night warned GPs that no surgery should be using 0844 numbers, and revealed it was checking how widely they are used.
A spokesman for the organisation confirmed it would ‘act on’ the findings when the work has been completed.
It is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has campaigned for years against the use by surgeries of 0844 numbers, which originally provoked more than 3,000 complaints from the public.
Calls are no more expensive than normal on a landline, but campaigners point out that millions of people, 15 per cent of the population, no longer have a landline. Surgeries receive some of the income generated by the calls, although doctors insist they do not make a profit and the revenue is spent on installing and operating the systems.
Primary care trusts, the local NHS bodies which were abolished at the end of March, were supposed to enforce GP contracts but were accused of doing nothing to prevent surgeries from using the numbers.
Now NHS England is in charge of enforcing
GP contracts and is taking a tougher stance with GPs. The decision in
Warrington shows it is ready to veto new contracts which don’t offer
standard call charges.
The use of 0844 numbers by surgeries originally provoked more than 3,000 complaints from the public
The group of three GP practices in Warrington, called the CCA Partnership, dropped plans to introduce the new number after an NHS England official reminded them of their contract.
The doctors originally planned to introduce it on Monday but earlier this week they performed a dramatic U-turn.
David Hickson, from the Fair Telecoms Campaign, said: ‘This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a GP has been stopped from using a 0844 telephone number by being reminded of the terms of their NHS contract.
‘We hope that this early success for NHS England will mark the start of serious enforcement of the terms of contracts across the country.
‘The suggestion that an NHS practice can offer a “two-tier” service, by having an alternative single-line geographic number for those who are reluctant to pay to get the proper NHS service, is a shameful insult to the principles of the NHS.’
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘We support guidance from the Department of Health that GP practices should not enter into any new contracts for telephone services that would mean patients pay more than the cost of a geographical call to their practice.
‘NHS England was established on 1 April 2013 and as part of our new role we are researching the extent of use of 0844 numbers and will act on our findings as and when this work has been carried out.’
A spokesman for the Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral office of NHS England confirmed they had intervened to stop the GP surgeries using the number.
‘It is our priority to ensure practices adhere to Department of Health guidance,’ he said. ‘This is to ensure that we can provide the best possible service to the public we serve.’