General Practitioners: Telephone Services

Health written question – answered on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Education)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance his Department provides to GPs on the use of 0844 numbers for patients seeking appointments; and if he will make a statement.

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

The Department issued guidance and directions to the national health service on 21 December 2009 which stated NHS bodies and general practitioner practices should not enter into new, renew, or extend, contracts for telephone services unless they can be satisfied that patients will not pay more than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number.

It is the responsibility of primary care trusts to ensure that local practices are compliant with the directions and guidance.

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David Hickson - fair telecoms campaign
Posted on 10 Jun 2011 10:56 am (Report this annotation)

It is important to understand that this is not just "guidance". In March 2010, parliament approved revisions to the terms of the General Medical Services contract, which is the legal basis for GPs providing NHS services.

PCTs served the contract variation notices on GPs from April 2010, giving those currently using 084 numbers until 31 March 2011 to change their arrangements - in most cases, migration to the equivalent 034 number is the most suitable step to take. New adoption of 084 numbers was prohibited immediately.

Compliance is extremely poor. My database of cases (using DH data from "NHS Choices") - see http://tiny.cc/GP084DB - currently shows 1,261 NHS GP surgeries in England using 084 numbers. This includes many adopted since April 2010.

A major reason for the failure is the absence of any helpful information from the DH to enable PCTs to understand how telephone charges are determined and the rates that apply to the UK as a whole. This is essential to counter misleading and false claims by those who are openly opposed to the intention of the ban - including the BMA GPC.

Without firm central control and support, the principles of the NHS are open to abuse by private providers of (in this case, ancillary) services and the natural self-interest of independent GP providers.

Mr Burns and his department have been thoroughly briefed by myself on the level of non-compliance, the need for support to the PCTs and the way in which the position of the DH is being misrepresented without rebuttal. The government is fully aware that action is needed to re-enforce the principle of "free at the point of need", but it chooses not to act.

(more comment and contact details on my blog at http://nhspatient.blogspot.com)

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