The Department has amended the general medical services regulations to prohibit GP practices from using telephone numbers that charge patients more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to contact the NHS. Since April this year, GPs have not been allowed to use a number that charges patients more than the cost of an equivalent geographical call.
I have been contacted by a constituent who is a patient at a practice in Rugby that uses telephony based on 084 numbers. My constituent is concerned about the additional charges incurred by patients when contacting the surgery by phone, particularly by mobile phone. Will the Minister update the House on the work of the Department in ensuring that GP surgeries do not use such numbers unnecessarily?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I understand that five GP surgeries in NHS Warwickshire use 084 numbers, and that the primary care trust has been assured that patients using those numbers are not charged more than the cost of using an equivalent local number. It is absolutely clear that there is no distinction between landlines, mobiles or payphones. The directions are very clear that patients should not expect to be charged any more.
I, similarly, have three GP practices that use those telephone numbers. I have made extensive contact with my local PCT about this, but it did not seem to know what to do. Can the Minister assure us that the clear advice she is giving here today will be distributed around the health service, so that we can put an end to this?
The Department is very clear, and the general medical services contract makes it very clear, that GPs are not allowed to do it. There are a number of options open to GPs who already have such telephone contracts, such as calling patients back, altering the contract arrangements or, indeed, paying the costs themselves.