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GPs must tell patients about 0844 call cost

Practices which use 0844 telephone numbers must ensure that patients are advised of the cost of calling, the BMA is warning.

The association issued the guidance after mounting pressure from patient lobby groups to outlaw the numbers, which are used by up to 1,500 GP practices. Calls to 0844 'local rate' numbers can cost up to 20p a minute from mobile phones.

The BMA advised: ‘Where 0844 numbers are used by practices, there should be mention of the charge for phone calls in the practice's information leaflet.

‘While patients' telephone providers may have a variety of charges, in any practice information the price relevant to most consumers should be stated.'

‘Probably few practices are aware of this aspect of advertising practice,' it added.

Last month the Government announced a clampdown on 0844 numbers, claiming it was not ‘consistent with best professional practice' to charge patients above the local rate. A number of PCTs have also launched reviews on the use of the numbers, while more than 28,000 people have now signed a petition on the Downing Street website claiming the use of the numbers ‘penalises the poor and elderly'.

A Department of Health spokesman said that information was currently being gathered on the use of 0844 numbers, with a report due at the end of March.

‘We do not expect GPs to break existing contracts, but they should not be entering new ones that would involve patients being charged more than for a local call,' he said.

GPs should consider switching to 03 numbers which cost the same as a geographic call regardless of what type of line the call is made from, the spokesman added.

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