Health: Telephone Services

Health written question – answered on 25th January 2011.

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Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidelines are in place on the use of 0844 and 0845 telephone numbers by (a) GP surgeries, (b) hospitals and (c) dental practices.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department of Health

Following a public consultation on the future use of 0844 and 0845 numbers in the national health service, the Department announced on 14 September 2009, that it would be prohibiting the use of telephone numbers which charged the patient more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number. The Department issued guidance and directions to general practitioner practices and NHS bodies, including hospitals, which came into force on 21 December 2010.

There are no regulations or guidelines in place regarding the use of 0844 or 0845 numbers in dental practices.

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David Hickson
Posted on 29 Jan 2011 10:22 pm (Report this annotation)

Mr Burns fails to refer to the changes to the GMS and PMS contracts that were introduced in April 2010 to require NHS GPs to cease use of telephone numbers that are more expensive than the cost of an equivalent call to a Geographic number.

For the 75% of non-business telephone calls not made under the terms of the regulated rates imposed on BT, calls to 0845 numbers are more expensive than calls to geographic numbers. All calls to 0844 numbers are more expensive under the terms of all telephone tariffs.

Ofcom now classifies calls to 084 numbers as "Business Rate". It is currently consulting on proposals for declaration of the "Service Charge" element of the cost, which applies in all cases, to be made whenever these numbers are given.

The Directions to NHS bodies, which were issued in December 2009, required compliance by 21 December 2010 - this has not been achieved.
The GP contract changes require compliance by 31 March 2011.

One fears that Mr Burns's omission is confirmation that he will not be taking action to ensure enforcement before this pending deadline.

See more comment in my media release -

PCTs, who currently commission NHS dentistry, pharmacy and ophthalmology services, as well as those who provide them, are under a legal obligation to have regard to the terms of the NHS Constitution. Use of a telephone number that includes a "Service Charge" is a clear breach of the right to access NHS services without charge.

Will new commissioning bodies have sufficient commitment to the 62-year-old fundamental principles of the NHS and also the time and resources to get to grips with this issue?

Is enforcement of the principles of the NHS one of the sacrifices we wish to make, as it is liberated from central control?