Leeds GP welcomes move to halt 'premium' calls

A LEEDS GP today welcomed the Government's surprise move to ban the use of NHS numbers which charge a premium rate.

Following a public consultation on the use of 084 numbers, the Department of Health said it did not want people paying premium rates to call their GP or other NHS services.

The move means that numbers to ring health services beginning 084 will have to now cost no more than a local call.

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Health minister Mike O'Brien said: "It is clear from the feedback we have received that patients support the banning of any number or tariff which is more expensive to call. For people on low incomes, and for those who need to contact their local doctor or hospital regularly, these costs can soon build up.

"We want to reassure the public that when they contact their local GP or hospital, the cost of their call will be no more expensive than if they had dialled a normal landline number."

Dr Richard Vautrey, a GP in Meanwood and deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, said: "Patients who call their surgery because they're ill shouldn't be penalised because they have to call an 084 number.

"We're pleased that the phone companies who supply these lines to practices have agreed to ensure that their tariffs are in line with local charges.

"There are many added benefits that telephone systems using these numbers have and which patients find helpful, for example better and quicker access, so it's good to see that the Government has recognised this and has not gone for a complete ban on the use of these numbers."

Dr Vautrey said his surgery used an 0844 number but the company supplying it had assured the Government it cost no more than a local call.

But he said some callers, especially those on mobile phones, did not get these numbers included in their call packages and so he urged more phone companies to make them inclusive.

The Government is now to work with doctors' leaders to write the ban into GPs' contracts.

However, NHS Direct will retain its 0845 number for the time being as the Department of Health said it was looking into creating a new three-digit number for people to ring for urgent healthcare.

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