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Government bans premium rate charging for 084 numbers

By Lilian Anekwe

The Government has banned GPs from charging patients for premium rate phone numbers - insisting that patients should never be charged more than the price of a local phone call when contacting their practice.

Announcing a ban on the use of phone numbers beginning with the prefix 084 in England, health minister Mike O'Brien said the decision had been made on the basis of the strength of feeling expressed in more than 90% of the 3,000 responses to a public consultation.

The ban means GPs and other NHS organisations remain free to use 084 numbers, providing patients are not charged more than a local rate number.

The ban will be enforced through negotiated changes to the GP contract, and would be put in place ‘as soon as practicable', Mr O'Brien said.

Calling 084 numbers can cost patients up to 40p a minute as telephone providers normally charge a premium, known as revenue sharing, a proportion of which goes towards covering the cost of additional services such as queuing systems and automated answering services.

The Government stopped short of outlawing revenue sharing arrangements, suggesting telephone companies will either have to bring call charges for 084 numbers in line with those of local calls, or include calls to 084 numbers in call packages.

He 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.

‘It is not our intention to prohibit ‘revenue sharing' as part of our proposals – the important thing is to ensure that patients are not being made to pay more than the equivalent cost of calling an 01 or 02 number.'

The GPC welcomed the ban, which it said would be fairer to patients. Deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘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.'

Practice contracts will be amended to prevent patients being charged premium rates for 084 numbers Practice contracts will be amended to prevent patients being charged premium rates for 084 numbers

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