GP Telephone Numbers

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th January 2010.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:30 pm, 12th January 2010

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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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

The Department issued guidance and directions to the NHS in England on 21 December, just before Christmas, that patients should not be expected to pay more than the cost of a local call to contact the NHS, including doctors' surgeries. GPs will have this year to end the practice completely and get out of any contracts that cause that to happen.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

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.

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

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 21 December, but we want them to be out now, or as soon as they possibly can be.

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Mr O'Brien fails to mention that GPs are not directly covered by the Directions issued on 21 December 2009, but by revisions to their contracts. These have now been published in the necessary Statutory Instrument (2010/578). They will come into effect on 1 April 2010 and will be released formally before that date. The "year" in question begins for GPs on 1 April 2010, which means that they have until 1 April 2011 (not 21...

Submitted by David Hickson Continue reading

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Shadow Minister (Health)

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?

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

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.

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