Frank Field demands GP surgery drops its 'rip-off' premium rate phone number

Birkenhead MP Frank Field

Birkenhead MP Frank Field

First published in News by , Geoff Barnes

Birkenhead MP Frank Field has called on a local GP surgery to ring the changes and scrap their high rate telephone number to cut the cost to patients.

He claimed they were being charged 41p a minute to make an appointment at the Fender Way Health Centre in Noctorum.

Describing the premium rate line as a "rip-off",  Mr Field is demanding answers about how much patients have been charged to subsidise the practice since the 0844 telephone number was introduced.

He wrote to the practice: “You are the only practice in Merseyside that still uses a higher rate 0844 telephone number for patients to call about an appointment, meaning they are have to pay extra to subsidise the practice.

“Does this not violate the fundamental practice of the NHS being a service that is universally free at the point of use?

“Might I ask whether you have any plans to switch to a cheaper telephone number, and if not why not?”

Practice manager Sharon Joy said today she had no comment to make until the contents of the MPs letter has been discussed with GPs at the health centre.

But the practice’s website contains the following statement: “After listening to the comments with regards to the practice 0844 telephone number, the issue has been addressed by providing an additional telephone number."

It says this is along side 0844 number but does not replace it.

Mr Field pointed out that in April 2010 there was a contractual obligation placed on general practices requiring them to take all reasonable steps to bring their higher rate telephone numbers to an end.

Since then every other GP across Merseyside has done so.

The MP has been campaigning in recent months for the abolition of higher-rate 0845 numbers in government department, including benefit and pension calls to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Comments (2)

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8:39am Tue 4 Mar 14

spamfiend says...

Maybe Frankie Fields should stop worrying about phone lines and maybe try and sort our how we can actually GET an apppointment with our GP - My docs is brilliant, but they don't do same day appointments. Instead they do Triage over the phone and make an assessment from there. Heaven help us if we are really poorly.
Maybe Frankie Fields should stop worrying about phone lines and maybe try and sort our how we can actually GET an apppointment with our GP - My docs is brilliant, but they don't do same day appointments. Instead they do Triage over the phone and make an assessment from there. Heaven help us if we are really poorly. spamfiend
  • Score: -3

12:55pm Tue 4 Mar 14

Ian_SE says...

With a single phone call to book or cancel an appointment likely to cost upwards of £5, and the practice receiving a small cut of the profits, Frank is quite right to be asking why this practice continues to ask patients to subsidise the running costs of the surgery in contravention of the 'free at the point of need' principles of the NHS.

Campaigners worked for several years to secure a ban on the usage of 084 numbers by NHS bodies and GP practices and are furious that some are about to enter their fifth year of non-compliance with the specific terms detailed in their GMS Contract as amended in April 2010. Those practices already using an 084 number before that time were given a one year grace period to remedy the situation. They had until April 2011 to do so.

In 2013, the Fair Telecoms Campaign worked with NHS England helping to draft a letter to be sent to practices explaining the current position and busting several myths.

The letter makes clear that there is no need to end telephone service contracts and thereby incur penalty fees in doing so. The requirement is to change the telephone number to a cheaper alternative, such as one in the 03 range. The telephone system supplier confirmed in July 2013 this can be done at any time and that there is no fee for making this change. The practice becomes responsible for meeting the full cost of their telephone system without the benefit of a subsidy collected from patients. A recent FOI request made to a North London practice, also in breach of their GMS Contract, revealed their subsidy running at around £500 per month.

The letter from NHS England also makes clear that running an 01, 02 or 03 number in parallel with a retained 084 number is still a breach of the GMS Contract terms. The NHS does not offer two levels of service based on willingness or ability to pay. The 084 number must be switched off or replaced with a fully compliant number.

The letter was signed by David Geddes on behalf of NHS England and sent out to non-compliant practices in England during November 2013. It asks each practice to "explain their plan for swiftly moving away from the use of an 084 number". There can be no more stalling and no more excuses. This situation has prevailed for far too long and must be rapidly resolved to a fully compliant concusion.
With a single phone call to book or cancel an appointment likely to cost upwards of £5, and the practice receiving a small cut of the profits, Frank is quite right to be asking why this practice continues to ask patients to subsidise the running costs of the surgery in contravention of the 'free at the point of need' principles of the NHS. Campaigners worked for several years to secure a ban on the usage of 084 numbers by NHS bodies and GP practices and are furious that some are about to enter their fifth year of non-compliance with the specific terms detailed in their GMS Contract as amended in April 2010. Those practices already using an 084 number before that time were given a one year grace period to remedy the situation. They had until April 2011 to do so. In 2013, the Fair Telecoms Campaign worked with NHS England helping to draft a letter to be sent to practices explaining the current position and busting several myths. The letter makes clear that there is no need to end telephone service contracts and thereby incur penalty fees in doing so. The requirement is to change the telephone number to a cheaper alternative, such as one in the 03 range. The telephone system supplier confirmed in July 2013 this can be done at any time and that there is no fee for making this change. The practice becomes responsible for meeting the full cost of their telephone system without the benefit of a subsidy collected from patients. A recent FOI request made to a North London practice, also in breach of their GMS Contract, revealed their subsidy running at around £500 per month. The letter from NHS England also makes clear that running an 01, 02 or 03 number in parallel with a retained 084 number is still a breach of the GMS Contract terms. The NHS does not offer two levels of service based on willingness or ability to pay. The 084 number must be switched off or replaced with a fully compliant number. The letter was signed by David Geddes on behalf of NHS England and sent out to non-compliant practices in England during November 2013. It asks each practice to "explain their plan for swiftly moving away from the use of an 084 number". There can be no more stalling and no more excuses. This situation has prevailed for far too long and must be rapidly resolved to a fully compliant concusion. Ian_SE
  • Score: 12

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