/ Health, Money

GPs – stop using expensive phone numbers

Man hanging up phone

GPs have been asked to stop using expensive numbers, but a quick check reveals many still are. Most of us have inclusive call plans that exclude certain numbers, so should GPs make more effort to switch?

If my circle of friends and family are anything to go by, we Brits will do almost anything to avoid a trip to the doctor.

So by the time we’re poorly enough to call for medical aid, chances are the type of number we have to call for an appointment will be the last thing on our minds. That is, until we receive the phone bill.

In December 2009, the Secretary of State for Health issued ‘Directions’ to NHS bodies regarding the phone numbers for users of health services to call. It expected GPs and other NHS bodies in England to stop using phone numbers that cost more than standard geographic numbers – starting 01 or 02. The final date for changes was 21 December 2010.

Expectations vs reality

It’s disappointing, then, that in a check of 100 GP surgeries across ten randomly selected English postcodes, eight still use 0844 numbers. OK, so it’s not exactly a statistically robust sample, but I can’t imagine my small-scale research has unearthed the only eight GPs to still use 0844.

But, in the interests of fairness, I will note one proviso. The Department of Health (DH) Directions didn’t impose a blanket ban. Instead it said GPs should take ‘all reasonable steps’ to stop using expensive numbers.

And it’s possible that contractual obligations with phone number providers may have stopped some GPs switching to less expensive numbers yet. But in these cases, GPs should offer a call-back option for patients on request.

And the DH directions didn’t ban 0844 specifically – it’s the call cost, not the code, that’s important. 0844 is sometimes cheaper (slightly) to call than 01 and 02 numbers, from some operators, at some times of day. But not always, particularly if you’re calling from a mobile, and certainly not if you have inclusive call minutes.

Calls not included

That’s my main gripe with GPs’ continued use of 0844. Mobile and landline operators alike are often keen for us to opt for inclusive call plans. They can help us manage our phone call spend, so many of us take up their offers.

But unlike 01 or 02 numbers (and sometimes 0845 and 0870), 0844 calls are never included in mobile or landline call plan inclusive minutes.

BT told us that two thirds of its customers have an inclusive calling plan. And anyone with a pay-monthly mobile contract (that’s more than half of UK mobile users) will have some inclusive minutes. Even with PAYG, there’s an increased trend for operators to offer top-up ‘incentives’ of inclusive texts and minutes.

I’m one of those who pay for inclusive anytime call minutes with both my landline and my mobile operator, but if I had to call an 0844 number I’d be charged for this on top. Fortunately, my GP uses a geographic number – but not everyone’s that lucky.

But perhaps I’m being ‘numberist’ and it’s not that big a deal, so let me know your thoughts. Does your GP still use 0844 – and more to the point, does it bother you?


Dear can’t say

Young man nothing is ever free in this world and unfortunately for you if you think so! The whole point that most people on this website are worried about are the OAPs who paid fortunes out of their wages for the NHS during the whole accepted working life of people who started working back in the 1920s onwards – and in return they have just a paltry pension to live on. Every penny counts of that pension and so – at a time in their lives where they are visiting their GPs regularly – this additonal expense of ringing them is pushing their means to the very limit (without the recession). At the other end of the scale you have the young mothers and disabled again on limited incomes – usually only on mobiles when it comes to communications – simply because they cannot afford the rental for a landline – and again these people are having to regularly call their GPs for their disabilities and young children and also can ill afford these prices.

Shame on you for voicing such rubbish. The NHS is quick to take our money from our wages and just as quick to hand fortunes over to management/GPs in the NHS but to have them then turn round and try to charge people at point of entry in such an underhand way is nothing short of disgusting.

Yes, if there is a shortage of money in the NHS introduce some sort of fee at the point of contact, but not these back door methods which only penalise the elderly and the very young – not people like yourself who because you enjoy Sky think others do too! You it is to be hoped are quite healthy and therefore make these statements from that point of view, the whole point of a discussion is to see all sides not just your own.

I fail to understand why a GP earning £100000 plus grants from their PCT then has to rip off people on the telephone.

Adam M says:
17 May 2012

Dear Dot,

I completely hear you that this number is unfair. But that applies to everyone – old,young,rich,poor,abled and disabled. It cant be fair for others and unfair for some, surely your postively discriminating? Whether it is positive or negative, discrimination is discrimination!

And you add that the whole point of this discussion is to see all sides. But you say “Shame on you for voicing such rubbish” How can you hear all sides if you try and shame people for their opinion.
Also I have a disabled son, and I would not hesitate on calling an 0844 number, regardless of cost. Even if I had to pay £10 a call. The amount of treatment he has received since he was born, has run into the 10s of thousands. And has anyone asked me to pay more NI contributions? No – Has anyone asked me to pay for some of his care? No – Has he been treated any different since he has cost them this large sum of money? No. To save my childs life and to ensure he has a healthy future – I cant put a price on that.

I get that it is not the most ideal situation, but this isn’t an ideal world. If it was prescriptions would be free! But dont see a campaign to stop us paying these massive pharmaceutical companies money. And they make more money than any telecoms provider.

This problem will be sorted within the next 12 months, as they HAVE to change this. But wont we just find something else we’re not happy with?

Eileen Gibson says:
20 May 2013

Hi I am one of the many people that have to use an 0844 number to ring my doctors. The centre used to have a local number which was covered by most providers as either free anytime or weekend calls, but that changed a good while ago. Last month I needed to call my surgery on quite a few occasions for appointments and results etc. When I checked my bill I had paid £1.99 for calls. This may not seem excessive but as we are retired every little bit extra we can save makes a difference. I think this isa disgrace, particularly when you see GP’s salarys!!

How can we make our voice heard in the right places to urge the surgery to go back to a local number?



You and others in your position may be interested to read the comment on the parallel conversation at https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/expensive-gp-phone-numbers-nhs-premium-0844-number/comment-page-8/#comment-1315405.



Has anyone sent a bill to their doctor for the amount spent on these phone calls?
They are not supposed to be doing this, therefore should be billed and if they don’t pay, pass the debt over to external debt collectors, and we all know what a pain they can be.

As for extra funding: We already pay through the nose via out NI & tax contributions to fund the National Health service, It is those who administrate it who generate the shortfall by continually and needlessly and wasting our monies, usually for wilful political reasons. It is not up to us to make up the shortfall generated by this wastefulness. Doctors should not be finding ways to fleece us for more money, it is our political masters who have screwed it up and who are culpable, and it is to they the doctors should be turning.

Adam M says:
17 May 2012

213 Regent Road, Tividale, Oldbury B69 1RZ – Oakham Surgery.

This is the type of surgery that people should be having the hump with.
Spoken with these today and was told ” Dont care what patient wants, we’re in compliance”

This is the sort of surgery that makes it harder for the rest of GP surgeries. Most are really trying to change. But a very small minority, wont change until it is a lawful requirement.



This practice is clearly not in compliance.

If you called the 0844 number “in relation to services provided as part of the health service” then you have a valid case to report to fairtelecoms via this form – http://www.fairtelecoms.org.uk/submit-details-of-nhs-gp-with-084-number.html.

We will pass this report on to the Black Country PCT Cluster (encompassing Sandwell PCT), urging it to proceed with the necessary enforcement action.

The claim of compliance is most likely based on a misunderstanding of the terms of the GP contract and a failure to comply with its statutory duty to “have regard to” the NHS Constitution.

Prefer not to say says:
17 May 2012

In my business, when I sent an invoice to a customer, I didn’t surcharge them for part of my operating costs! Neither did I alienate them by making them pay to contact me.

When it comes to a GPs surgery, that too is a business (except that they remain HIGHLY profitable, even during bad times). There is a fundamental difference: their income comes indirectly from their ‘clients’ via the client’s NI, Income Tax & VAT paid on some other purchases. Telephony is just another operating expense; as are Rates, Insurance (Building, professional, Public Liability), Electricity, Gas?, Doctors Salaries, staff wages , equipment to name a few.

Trouble is most Doctors are not business people. Telephone Companies knocked on Doctors doors & offered them free telephony services IF they changed their telephone numbers to an 0844 number to ‘facilitate’ the system….. All the Doctors saw was the saving they could make on their overheads. The Doctors didn’t think to sufficiently question the TelCo what was in it for the TelCo since patients would subsequently dialling a ‘lo-call’ (or what ever) number. Many people were DELIBERATELY ‘economical with the truth’ on this key ‘actual cost’ point & the legality of what was proposed.

Similar to the PPI scandal, Doctors should be forced to reimburse patients the call charges they forced patients to incur. The Doctors may in turn chose to sue the TelCos, but that isn’t the patients problem.

Do not get swayed by Doctors’ on their RIGHTFUL pedestals in society, by the fact that they are also businesses people.