MP calls on GPs to end ‘rip off’ charges for phoning surgeries

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FAMILY doctors have been called on by the former Shadow Health Secretary to stop using “rip-off” phone numbers which can cost patients 40p per minute more than a standard call.

John Healey. MP for Wentworth and Dearne, has also written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asking him to “put a stop to GPs using these expensive numbers.”

The MP has carried out research which shows more than two-thirds of GP practices in Rotherham and nearly three-quarters of practices in Barnsley are still using higher rate 0845 and 0844 numbers.

These numbers can cost patients up to 40p a minute if calling from a mobile and 12p per minute – plus a set up fee of up to 13p – if calling from a landline not provided by BT.

Mr Healey said: “It is costing patients more to access what should be an open NHS service. Telecoms companies and some GPs are profiting at the expense of patients, when Government guidelines created by the last Labour Government, but not enforced properly by the Coalition, rule this out.

“When families are finding money is tight and everyone is trying to cut costs no one should be paying over the odds to get in touch with their doctor.”

The Government issued regulations in 2010 which said patients should not be charged more to call their doctor than to call a local geographical number. This includes the cost of calling surgeries from all mobile phone providers and payphones.

All NHS bodies and GP surgeries were required to implement the new measures by April 1 this year – but hundreds of GP surgeries are still not adhering to the rules.

Mr Healey added: “I know some GPs say 084 numbers improve the service they offer to patients, for example by automatically diverting out-of-hours calls.

“But they can switch to 03 numbers which offer the same functions and do not cost the caller extra.”