What recent guidance his Department has issued to GP practices on their use of 0844 telephone number systems; and if he will make a statement.
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The Department issued guidance and directions to the NHS in England on
I thank the Minister for that response, but he will be aware that the practice is continuing. He says that it must end this year, but there is an awful lot of this year left, so when does he expect the practice to end? Not only does it make it expensive for people to call their local general practitioner, but older people in particular often prefer a human being to answer the phone, rather than be responded to by a machine.
I agree that we need to ensure that this practice of some GPs charging more than a local rate for contact ends as quickly as possible. We have made it absolutely clear to GPs that they must get out of these contracts-a number of practices have signed up to and are legally bound by them-and they have the year to do so. We have engaged with some of the companies involved and, to be fair to them, they have said they are prepared to negotiate equitable arrangements with the GPs to see whether we can get them all out of this as soon as possible. They have all got to be out by
This situation is not just in the hands of GPs; the provider that the patient is using is also ripping them off. For instance, when someone phones a GP's surgery on an 0845 number from a call box, the charges will be over the top, and people will still be charged even on the new 0300 numbers. Will the Minister examine why these patients are still being ripped off by their providers, as well as by GPs?
Our objective is to ensure that anyone trying to contact the NHS locally pays a local rate, and we need to ensure that such practice is adopted. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence to suggest that particular issues are arising, I would be happy to discuss them with him.