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Practices can switch from 0844 numbers without incurring penalties, says supplier

A major supplier of 0844 telephone numbers has said practices will be allowed to change to a cheaper number within the terms of their contract.

The Daisy Group has told practices they will impose no financial penalties on practices who want to switch from an 0844 number to a geographical number, despite claims at the LMC conference in May that changing numbers could cost practices up to £60,000.

However, the practices who change to lower rate numbers could face higher bills in the long term as the costs of the calls would be shifted from the caller to the practice, the company said.

The company also confirmed that it was no longer selling the 0844 numbers to NHS organisations, having previously said it was going to stop marketing them.

There is estimated to be more than 900 practices using 0844 numbers, which charge callers a premium rate. Earlier this year, following public pressure NHS England announced it wanted to crack down on GPs’ use of premium phone numbers, and has asked local area teams to identify practices still using them.

A spokesperson for Daisy Line said: ‘Surgery Line customers are not forced to continue using 0844 numbers until their long-term contracts end - it is open to them to move to a geographic number on request. Such customers can switch, free of charge, to numbers charged at the geographic rate.’

However, the spokesperson confirmed that practices may have increased bills if they switched to a lower rate number, because 0844 numbers include a ‘revenue share’ subsidy as the cost was passed on to callers.

Practices who change to a geographical number will have to pick up the cost of the ‘revenue share’ subsidy and pay the full amount for the contract.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman, said practices are already looking to change their numbers.

He said: ‘Now that technology has improved practices should be reviewing their options and consulting their telecoms provider to see whether an alternative plan can be agreed. Some are already seeking to return to using local geographical numbers.’

Mr David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms campaign has said there are 938 GPs still using 0844 telephone numbers.

He urged GPs still doing so to change to geographical numbers even if this meant foregoing the revenue share subsidy.

He said: ‘Some GPs want their patients to continue subsidising their telephone system. As this is a clear breach of the principles of the NHS, we await the reaction of patients of any surgery which now refuses to switch. As this is a clear breach of the terms of the contracts held with NHS England, we await the action which it will take following “active research”.’

He added: ‘Clearly additional payments from patients impact a practice budget, affecting its ability to deliver services. GPs who choose to work within our taxation-funded NHS must recognise that this option is not available to them. The generous public funding they receive must be used effectively and wisely to deliver the best possible service. This includes acquiring telephone systems.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • So how about all those government departments?
    The Tax office and their 0845s etc?
    How about all the patients mobiles we have to phone?

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  • (corrected comment)

    "So how about all those government departments?"

    See the recent report by John Healey MP on the "Telephone Tax", the current NAO investigation into "Charges for customer telephone lines" and the debate in Westminster Hall, Wednesday 26 June 2013 at 11.00 a.m. on "The cost of non-geographic telephone numbers used by Government".

    "The Tax office and their 0845s etc?"

    HMRC have recently moved many of their phone lines from 0845 numbers to either 0300 or 0345 and have promised to complete this work "by the end of Summer" (2013). DWP remains a point of contention. If they do not move away from 0845, DWP will have to openly declare a 2p/min Service Charge for calling their 0845 numbers once Ofcom's "unbundled tariffs" system comes into effect.

    "How about all the patients mobiles we have to phone?"

    Ofcom have steadily reduced the "Mobile Termination Rate" over the last few years. Once this has been completed, calls to mobiles from landlines will cost about the same as calling another landline. This will enable landline operators to offer inclusive calls to mobiles as well as landlines in call packages. Some operators are already offering half price calls to mobiles on some landline packages.

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  • If I call my GP's 0844 surgery number from my mobile, it costs 20.4 ppm. Many people have to use their mobiles yet that charging rate is way more than reasonable. Add to that the eight-o’clock rush for appointments which keeps people hanging on for many minutes; it is an expensive activity getting an appointment.

    This really has to change. The few pence the surgery might get simply do not justify this.

    How many doctors have paid such high charge when making an appointment with anyone else?

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  • Stated on its own, 20.4p/min doesn't sound like very much to pay for making a telephone call from a mobile telephone.

    What's needed here are some additional facts:
    - if this were a call to an 01, 02 or 03 number, the call would be inclusive within your call package and would attract no additional per-minute charges;
    - you are clearly "paying more" to call the 0844 number than you would to call an 01 or 02 number;
    - the GMS Contract was amended in April 2010 to ensure that callers to practice telephone numbers "do not pay more to make relevant calls than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number";
    - within the 20.4p/min call price is a 4.255p/min Service Charge to the benefit of the practice and their phone supplier;
    - it is the presence of the Service Charge that prevents 0844 numbers from being included in call package bundles.

    Additionally,
    - the 03 range of numbers offers the same technical call-handling features as found on 08 and 09 numbers;
    - the call price for 03 numbers does not include a Service Charge and revenue sharing is not permitted;
    - 03 numbers are charged at the same rate as 01 and 02 numbers and included within all call package bundles.

    If there are extra charges incurred by the usage of special call-handling features on a telephone system, it is the practice that pays for them on 03 and 080 numbers and the caller that pays for them (through the Service Charge) on 084, 087 (except 0870) and 09 numbers. The latter has been outlawed by the revised terms of the "GMS Contract" since April 2010.

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