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?