Anger over hospitals’ 0844 phone calls charge

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THE DEBT-ridden Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust earned more than £100,000 in revenue last year from controversial 0844 telephone numbers.

Patients ran up higher-than-expected telephone bills after calling the trust, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract.

Campaigners say the number is significantly more expensive than a STD code although managers dispute this.

The use of the non-geographic telephone numbers, particularly by GPs, has caused anger among patients for years.

The Mid Yorkshire has four 0844 numbers which earned it £102,000 in revenue in 2012-13, £66,000 in 2011-12 and £60,000 in 2010-11, at a rate of 4p per call.

David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms campaign, said both GPs and hospitals were charging patients for access to services in breach of fundamental NHS principles and should stop “immediately”.

He said most callers ringing a standard number pay nothing providing if it is within their call contract but those calling 084 numbers typically face significant extra expenditure as this falls outside the terms of deals.

“The simple fact of the matter is that calling 0844 is in almost every case vastly more expensive,” he said. “The Department of Health issued directions - not guidance - to NHS bodies back in December 2009 giving them 12 months to get off expensive telephone numbers.

Mid Yorkshire is one of a relatively small number which didn’t.”

Carole Langrick, of the Mid Yorkshire trust, said: “The cost of calls to this number has not been raised as an issue with us, since they are charged at 5p per minute, which is cheaper than the standard BT landline rate of 7.6p per minute.

However, it is vital that people are able to get in touch with us to access our services quickly and efficiently and we welcome any further feedback about this service so we can make it as effective as possible.”