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Discharge information fails to meet GP needs

Ministers are considering banning GPs from using telephone systems that force patients to call an 0870 number to contact the surgery.

Labour MP and GP Dr Howard Stoate said Department of Health legal advisers were investigating ways of stopping GPs using the systems. He said health minister John Hutton would soon make a statement.

The move would mark a dramatic U-turn by Mr Hutton. He told MPs last April that practices had the right to install the systems. Some 250 practices have done so.

The furore has arisen because patients have to pay 0.3p per minute more to call GPs on the 0870 national rate number than they would for a local call. The extra money enables GPs to cover the cost of installing a new phone system.

But protesters have complained GPs should not be able to charge patients more to access NHS services.

Dr Hugh Taylor, a GP in Ongar, Essex, who uses an 0870 number, said: 'If that was the case why should patients have to pay for parking at hospitals?'

He added: 'We would be very negatively affected by a ban if it was introduced retrospectively ­ which would be grossly unfair.'

Richard Chapman, sales director of NEG plc, said the company would mount a legal challenge to any ban. He added: 'It's impossible for GPs to make money out of the system.'

A department spokesman said 'nothing was currently planned' on the issue.

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