/ 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?

Kate says:
21 April 2013

I have recently moved and am a regular at the GPs as i unfortunately have several health conditions. I’m forced to make appointments every month and sometimes more often to get prescriptions. The way you get appointments is to phone in at 08.30am the day you want an appointment. I can’t afford to do this as the GP in Leicester uses an 0844 number. I never had a problem with my previous GP in Kent.
I think it’s disgraceful that even though i have complained about this to the practice manager, they haven’t acknowleged my difficulty in affording to call them. It means i have to go in person to the surgery to make my appointments which is out of my way. It’s also awful that the Department of Health spoke about this problem in 2009 and it’s now 2013 and nothing has changed!

roberts family says:
25 April 2013

our doctors in borras park wrexham clwyd uses 0844 i think it is disgraceful charging ill people to call doctors surgery as our doctors always puts you on hold, it is cheaper for us to walk round than call them.
this should be stopped.

Those who wish their case to be brought to the attention of NHS England, please 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.

Its a joke.
My surgery is STILL using an 0844 number – Sept 2013
I don’t have a landline, so my options are Mobile (expensive) or Skype (just as expensive).
I walk to the surgery to make my rare appointments but I am 65 and can still do this.
What about when I can’t?
I shall be asking why they haven’t changed to a cheaper option, the next time I go.


“I’ve just come from my GP’s Surgery and I’m furious.

I said to the receptionist, “It’s 11 days since I left a sample with you and I haven’t heard from you, so I’ve come to get the results.”
“Do you have an appointment,” she asked.
“No!” I said. “I’ve just come for the results.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “You have to ring in for an appointment.” She whipped out a handy slip of paper with two 0844 numbers in huge bold print, and instructions on when to ring.
“I’m here now,” I said. “Please make an appointment and I’ll wait or come back later.”
“No! It doesn’t work like that. You have to phone at 8-9:15am or 2-3:15pm* to make an appointment with any nurse, doctor, etc.”

To see any medic you are obliged to ring the 0844 number.

Phoning at any time you’re held on the line for an endless caller routing (caller putting off) system, clocking up minute after minute at 8p a minute (is it?).During the times above of course, you’ll be held on the line for ages listening to horrid music and a voice saying over and over, “We are experiencing heavy call loads at present, please call back later.” … because everyone has to ring at these times.

There was further discussion … finally I said to the receptionist, “Just make a note asking Dr Xxxx to phone me with my test the results, Please.”

Feeling my temperature rising 🙂 I left with … “No! It doesn’t work like that.” ringing in my ears.

For years, this GPs Practice has been forcing all patients to commence any action with a costly phone call. There’s no other way! The final date for changing to a local number was 21 December 2010. Getting on for 3 years ago. When are the authorities going to enforce it??? I hope you can do something.

Regards, Earl.

ps My GP is a 5 minute walk away, so I’d rather go there than phone, besides the exercise does me good!!
pps I’m concerned that I may be black-listed if this gets out (if I haven’t been already).”

Earl, I can feel that you are rightly peeved. I am in the same position. I refuse to phone as I can get to the surgery easy.just why do the medical profession who are now very well paid act so badly? In the end I feel they will lose. But the fear of being removed from their list is the reason most people do not complain. They ERS a law unto themselves but like the Bankers their turn will come. Have you posted comments on NHS direct? Find your surgery and you can leave comments direct to the surgery,anonymously. Good luck keep up the pressure. Do not forget to write to your MP

Ginette says:
8 November 2013

My GP practice uses an 08444 number, still. Recently it has added quite a lot of information sections onto the front of your call so that you can’t get to your actual call for quite a while. Whilst it is sometimes helpful to hear these messages, it is not helpful to have to pay so much for phoning your doctor.
Practice: Clerklands Surgery, Vicarage Lane, Horley, Surrey, RH6