/ Health, Money

Is your GP still using an expensive phone number?

GP next to telephone

We took your concerns about GPs’ phone numbers to the Health Minister and got some interesting answers. But now we need more ‘concrete evidence’ to prove that some GPs still aren’t playing by the rules…

Last year you told us about GP surgeries still using expensive phone numbers, despite their contract saying they shouldn’t.

Since then we’ve be looking into this, gathering evidence, and meeting with the telecoms regulator Ofcom, and MPs.

Landlines, mobiles and payphones all count

Last Tuesday we attended a debate about this issue in parliament between Bob Ainsworth MP and the Health Minister, Simon Burns MP. We went hoping that the Minister would state exactly how the Department of Health plans to stop GPs using expensive phone numbers.

While he didn’t tell us that, we were encouraged to hear him state – on the record – that any phone service ‘should not cost patients any more than a local landline call’.

We know from what you’ve told us that there has been some confusion as to whether mobile phones were also included, with some GPs and PCTs saying they weren’t. The Minister’s exact words in response to this were: ‘the regulations cover landlines, mobiles and payphones equally’. This means that GPs cannot say they’re sticking to the rules if calling from a mobile phone costs more.

According to Ofcom, 15% of households in the UK do not have a landline. The Minister also said that in 2011 ‘for the first time, the majority of call minutes originated from mobile phones’. We know it is almost always more expensive to call an 0844 number from a mobile phone than either 01, 02 or 03, so we welcomed this clarity.

However, we were disappointed to hear the Minister say he’d been unable to find any evidence of GP surgeries using expensive numbers. So we will be sending him the ‘precise, concrete evidence’ he has asked for. So do you still have to use an expensive phone number to call your local GP surgery?

Comments
Totters says:
22 March 2012

The Hebden Bridge Group Practice, aka Valley Medical Centre proudly presents its access telephone number as : 0844 477 2477 as shown on its web site at: http://www.hbgp.co.uk.

I asked someone who answered the phone about their position on their telephone number and they replied that ‘it is a local number’ and refused to accept that a profit share number is very different from an 0845 or a geographic number. So I checked my bill for the call and for 5:04 mins (including the music and dialogue) it cost £0.213 (21.3 p). Whereas a local (01422) call is £0.0125 (1.25p) per min. That looks like a markup of c. 300% to me.

Norm de Plume says:
20 April 2012

The Practice don’t make any money as such out of it. They get the system free. It’s NEG/Daisy Communications who get the profit – and we who pay for it.

ndp

“The Practice don’t make any money as such out of it. They get the system free”

the free system is equivalent to money ie financial gain.

Many practices will deny that they get the system free – and they are probably correct.

The subsidy which they receive, at the expense of patients and other callers, is often not enough to meet the full cost of the “enhanced telephony” features at the exchange, the fees charged by the system provider and the lease payments on the surgery equipment (e.g. switchboard) which they may have been told was installed free of charge.

In some cases they claim that even after the benefit of the subsidy from the revenue share they are still paying a lot for the system. I am not totally surprised by this, and would not seek to disagree.

The point is that whatever the system costs, it is only the practice, which signed up for it, that must meet this cost, I have sympathy for any practice that was perhaps misled into buying a system that it cannot afford, however it is not the responsibility of its patients, and other callers, to provide it with subsidy because of this bad decision. PCTs have various ways of helping out practices that have foolishly got themselves into financial difficulties – forcing patients to pay illegal charges is not one of them.

To: “Norm de Plume” and “jackdaw w”

We enjoy reading your worthy contributions to this conversation. It would be great if we could make direct contact, so as to help co-ordinate our campaigning efforts through the Fair Telecoms Campaign.

john moore says:
22 March 2012

Castle Donington surgery uses 08444773092 and you are placed in TWO queues.First connected to the surgery and that can last up to 5 minutes and then eventually you get in the appointments queue.You are told what number in the queue you are(often as high as 10th) and all this is at 10p a minute.

Joseph says:
24 March 2012

Plumstead Health centre use 08443878002 and there is a never ending list of press 1 for this press 2 for that. In an emergency I had to ring the doctor from a mobile. it cost me £3.63 just to make an appointment. when I mentioned it at the surgery I was told not to use a mobile. Ha! I will try not to have an emergency in future!!!

Mrs Hassan says:
29 March 2012

My GP surgery (details below) have over 16,000 registered patients. Imagine the profit they make!
As a disabled pensioner, I have to call the surgery at least once a week and am faced with an endless selection of options just to get to speak to someone. I cannot afford the ridiculous charges incurred just for accessing medical advice and assistance which is my right!
The Staunton Group Practice
t: 0844 477 8651

[We have removed some of the contact details. Thanks, mods.]

RON says:
30 March 2012

Both my wife and I have been housebound since December 2010 and therefore totally dependent upon the telephone to communicate with friends, service organisations and in particular our doctor’s surgery. It was for this reason that we decided to take out a contract with BT that provides for free calls up to maximum of 1 hour to geographical, 0845 and 0870 numbers 24 hours a day 7 days a week. My doctor’s surgery is one of nine in Kent that uses the 0844 telephone number, which of course is chargeable to BT users. My recent bill for December to March showed that I had made a total of 433 calls, of which 428 were free. The 5 remaining calls shown below were to the 0844 number of my surgery and lasted a total of 15.69 minutes at a cost of £1.55.
DATE TIME NUMBER CALL TYPE LENGTH COST
Wed 28 Dec 11 11:58 08444——– Special Svce 2:32 £0.270
Thu 19 Jan 12 15:56 08444——– Special Svce 2:15 £0.250
Tue 31 Jan 12 12:29 08444——– Special Svce 1:43 £0.220
Mon 13 Feb 12 14:31 08444——– Special Svce 5:39 £0.430
Thu 23 Feb 12 10:57 08444——– Special Svce 4:40 £0.380

All articles and documents I have seen on this subject refer only to 084 numbers without explaining that there can be a difference in the price between 0844 and 0845 numbers. Also they do not explain that the cost of the geographical number following the 0844 is always chargeable. For example, 0845 numbers are free to BT users whereas 0844 are not. There is seldom, if any, reference to the significant differences between suppliers for both the connection charge and the charge per minute.
I have expressed concern to my MP that with more financial responsibility being given to surgeries, unless tight regulations are put in place to stop the use of these numbers, there must be the possibility that more surgeries will be tempted to move to 0844 numbers in future and to look for other opportunities to partake in schemes that also offer a financial incentive.

Speedy says:
31 March 2012

Hi RON

You cant have a tighter Regulation than ‘ In Breach of Contract unless they have taken All Reasonable Steps to Comply by April 2011 ‘ that gave them 12 months to Terminate / Re-negotiate or Migrate to their 0344 Option on their Phone System Contract. None were allowed to start New Contracts with a 0844 number from April 2010 but quite a few have been signing Contracts with this number illegally as recently as June 2011

All Practices using the 0844 number are practicing illegally and in Breach of their GP Contract and the PCTs are letting them perform illegally, by not doing their Job and themselves ignoring their NHS Contracts and Government Directives to Action these Breaches.

I am afraid it needs someone to take a PCT to Court or for the Health Ombudsman to get involved for not actioning these Breaches nothing is going to happen quickly. The trouble is that this is Civil Law not Criminal Law and the PCTs know that You and I ( Jo Public ) are not likely to go this far.

What is needed is for a High Profile Lawyer to do it Pro-bono and that is not very likely.

Raymond Ringe says:
31 March 2012

My wife and I are registered with the Health Centre in Crowle. I ring them on a regular basis to renew my repeat prescription, arrange blood tests and appointments with a diabetic nurse and to see a doctor when other illnesses require it. The only number available for making an appointment to see a doctor or nurse, or speak to the dispensary, is an 0844 number. Unfortunately, my BT ‘Unlimited Anytime Calls’ contract does not cover 0844 numbers, although 0845 and 0870 numbers are free under this contract. I hate being kept on the phone in a holding system which lasts for on average 10 minutes and then have to pay for this service separately.

steve says:
3 April 2012

Myself and children are registered with st budeaux in plymouth, i have complained about this 0844 number but the surgery turnt round and said that no other patient has, this is wrong because they keep you on the phone for extra 10 mins and we are paying more for this service which i think is not on.0844 477 3925

Danielle Billington says:
6 April 2012

Our gp surgery still uses the 0844 number proudly showing it off on the web site http://thornhillsmedical.nhs.uk/welcome,29498.htm
I have asked them about the use of this number as it costs pounds to phone a book any appointment. You often queue to reach another queue and I have been on the phone for 20 minutes before (in peak time) No one has answers of why they have gone to this number but this is the single highest charge on my bill when we have to ring the doctors.

Joanna says:
23 October 2012

Hi there Danielle
It’s Joanna Earle here from Kmfm and Kent Online.
I was wondering if you would be happy to speak to me re: how much phone calls are at Thornhills Doctors Surgery in Larkfield.
If so – could you let me know . My number here is: 01634 227994
Joanna

Ms Ann says:
7 April 2012

Little Common Surgery, Bexhill-on-Sea. Tel no. 0844 477 8629.(combined with The Old Town Surgery)
This is the surgery I call, having to use the 0844 telephone number.
The joint surgeries have just published their recent Patient Satisfaction Survey.
Some patients had complained about having to use a high premium rate number to call the surgery, the response from the surgery being I quote ” This is not the case as the calls are charged at the same cost as calling a geographic number”
This to most people would mean the same as calling their neighbour, however at best, the surgeries are misleading the public, at worst acting illegally and being downright dishonist, why can’t they come clean and admit it costs more to call on an 0844 number than using a local code and number?

Anne says:
10 April 2012

Woodhouse Medical Centre, Skelton Lane, Woodhouse, Sheffield. is still using an 0844 number. My elderly and disabled parents need to make frequent calls and are being charged over and above what they would pay for a local call which under their current providers contract is free for all 01, 0845 and 0870 numbers.

Norm de Plume says:
11 April 2012

I have taken this matter to the Ombudsman in the past, without success. The diffficulty in bringing a legal action, is whom to sue. We are actually charged for these calls by our telephone providers, who in turn pay the surgeries’ providers. The latter (usually NEG/Daisy Communications) are the ones making the money. It’s a legal minefield. It is significant that in their latest advice to their customers NEG express doubts about the legality of what they are doing, and suggest that surgeries instal a line with a geographic number to cover themselves. None appear to have done so yet.
Additionally the PCT accepts the assurance of NEG that their tariffs do not exceed the cost of a local call – rather like taking the uncorroborated word of a burglar that he had a right to enter the property and take goods. The tariff taken by NEG as an example now appears to be used by no one, according to BT, who say that everyone now is on some form of inclusive tariff.
It’s not surprising that Daisy Communictions (soon to go public) recently announced an increase in their turnover – at the expense of the sick, weak and vulnerable in society!
When our local paper tried to expose them, they were met with threats of legal action.

Lois Johnson says:
11 April 2012

I only have a mobile , not a landline. My GP only has an 08444 number (for ALL calls). I recently asked about the charges and they explained (in writing) that the calls from a landline were “around the cost of a call to a normal landline” but admitted that calling from a mobile may cost more. My bill showed that to successfully make an appointment cost me around £2.50, whereas calling Australia on a special access number – from my mobile – cost only about £1.80 for an hour’s talk! How can phone companies – and GPs – justify this profit-margin?
This is all the more worrying as many people in my area (Tottenham) live in rented or temporary accomodations and will most likely only have a mobile phone AND will be the hardest hit for budget constraints.

Speedy says:
12 April 2012

Hi norm de Plume

[quote] It is significant that in their latest advice to their customers NEG express doubts about the legality of what they are doing, and suggest that surgeries instal a line with a geographic number to cover themselves. None appear to have done so yet. [/quote]

The above quote from your Post is very interesting – could I ask if you have found this in Black and White or verbal ? As you say NEG/Daisy would be admitting that 0844 is not compliant, which must be a first.

If it is a sensative source perhaps you could PM me on the sayno site as I dont think there is a PM Mode on Which –

Norm de Plume says:
12 April 2012

To emphasise the hypocrisy of this, the main shareholder in NEG, Matt Riley, appeared on Dragons’ Den as a Dragon, and was seen poopooing a scheme by an aspiring entrepreneur to pay people to queue in a dentist’s surgery – precisely what we are paying NEG to do at the doctor’s.

Bob S says:
12 April 2012

I am a patient at Elms Surgery, Lilliput, Poole (Senior Partners, Dr Susan Thomas & Dr A. Rutland). I confirm that they use an 08444 number for all contact with their surgery. I hope C.A. can use this as sufficient evidence in their campaign. It is rather inconvenient to send my my phone bills to C.A. because my use of the surgery is intermittent and my phone bill is on-line only.
It should come as no surprise to people that nowadays, the medical profession, (G.P’s in particular), can behave as badly to their patients as does the food industry to the public at large. It is particularly grievous when the behaviour is underhand, not open, nor transparent, and contrary to rules, codes etc, of which the trader/doctor is well aware butthe public is not.It is justified by the mantra, “the pursuit of profit”.
It seems a nonsense for any C.A. member to introduce red herrings about the difficulties in “who to sue”. The responsible principals for Doctors Surgeries are, of course, the GP’s themselves.

Norm de Plume says:
12 April 2012

You obviously have no understanding of the Law of Contract. Please feel free to sue your GP.

Victor Delta says:
12 April 2012

Bob

You probably didn’t see my earlier post on page 4 – I am also a patient of the Lilliput Surgery. Although their own website sticks to publicising their 08444 number, the NHS Choices webpage relating to the practice also reveals their 01202 710013 number (not sure if this is by design or accident, probably the latter). However, I have tried to spread the news by posting this number on the very useful ‘Say No to 0870’ website.

V

Margaret Wycherley says:
12 April 2012

Carmel Medical Centre in Darlington only has the ‘phone number 0844-477-8758 available for patients and the message and direction service takes forever. I have asked several times for the local number but have been told that this is the only number available. A notice in the surgery also states this. They do, however, use a local fax number…..As I have ‘free’ local and national calls with my Virgin Media package, this means that I have to pay for this 0844 number.

Clare says:
18 April 2012

I found this on my phone bill for a call to my doctors – 12 Oct 11 08448550567 3 mins cost 28 pence. Woodlands medical practice in East Finchley N2. To my knowledge it still costs the same as reception staff never said otherwise when I raised the issue 2 days ago (16/04/12).

Dave says:
18 April 2012

The Caen Medical Centre in Braunton, Devon is still using an 0844 number:

http://www.caenmedicalcentre.nhs.uk/index.php?pid=5

Note that they have a local Fax number….

margareth says:
26 April 2012

My dr’s surgery at Falkland House, Falkland Road, Sheffield S11 9DD is still using a 0845 number which I understand costs more from a Virgin cable phone. As the whole are round the surgery is cabled up this means many patients will be paying extra.

Harri Johnson says:
30 April 2012

The Moir Medical Centre. Regent Street, Long Eaton, Nottingham NG10 1QQ. O844 477 1759. They even predominantly show this number on their website. It does show a local number but hardly ever answers or are kept waiting excessively as do 0844. A search engine only comes up with 0844 never the local number.

Sheila Smith says:
2 May 2012

Hi

I have a copy of my telephone bill to prove their charges also you can see by checking my DR’s website http://taff-valepractice.com/in_an_emergency.html their number is
0844 477 3487 just to make an appointment – the number is answered then you are in a queue for ages – all this time the pounds are clocking up on my bill.
As I work for a living I am unable to pop around to make an appointment and am forced to call them.
I have already complained to the surgery but just get ignored.

Mon 26 Mar 11:16 08444773487 12m 1s – 3.505
Thu 5 Apr 12:05 08444773487 19m 0s – 5.542
Mon 16 Apr 09:17 08444773487 1m 45s – 0.511
Mon 16 Apr 09:26 08444773487 10m 15s – 2.990

Apr 2012: Total £12.54 to make 4 appointments.

Thanks

Sheila

Norm de Plume says:
3 May 2012

What network on you on?

Sheila says:
11 May 2012

some are from vodafone some virgin landline