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Company to stop marketing 0844 numbers to GPs

A major supplier has promised to cease marketing 0844 numbers to NHS organisations, due to ‘public opinion’ over the use of premium numbers by GP practices.

The Daisy Group, which owns the Daisy Line Surgery telephone service, installed in more than 2,000 practices, has said it will stop marketing 0844 numbers to NHS-related organisations due to public pressure.

The news comes as NHS England has said it will crack down on the use of premium numbers, re-iterating that calls to GP phone lines should cost no more than the price of a local geographical call for patients.

They added they had asked the local area teams to find practices still using premium numbers and will ‘act upon’ their findings in due course.

Mr Andrew Goldwater, commercial director of system services for the Daisy Group said that they will bow to public opinon and stop proactive marketing 0844 numbers to practices.

He said: We have always listened to the needs of our customers, undertaking extensive work to help support them with compliance and developing solutions which help meet the very significant demands placed upon frontline NHS staff and improved access for patients.

‘However, we will not stand in the way of public opinion. We will continue to work in the interests of our GP customers and develop solutions which support them to improve their service to patients, however, we have taken the decision to no longer proactively market the 0844 product to NHS-related organisations.

‘We will continue to work with our GP customers to develop alternative solutions, supporting them by providing them with the products of their choice.’

Mr David Hickson of campaign group Fair Telecoms said the Daisy Group should go further and assist all practices currently using 0844 numbers to switch to the equivalent 0344 number.

He said: ‘As Daisy now recognises that public opinion is in favour of GPs complying with their NHS contracts, it must now recognise the necessity for all practices still using its system to migrate to an acceptable type of number for the remainder of their term. It has no grounds whatsoever for impeding requests to move to the equivalent 0344 number.’

Readers' comments (9)

  • We purposely changed to an 0844 number due to the improved service we could therefore provide. This was after consulting with our patient panel, and with their supoport. After changing we saw the satisfaction rate in the national survery for our telephone service increase from below average to well above (91% satisfaction vs national average of 77%). Although we have had a couple of grumbles regarding the number, we believe that the advantages greatly outstrip any possible increased cost. Mr Hickson should remember that in a climate of reducing practice resources a change away from the 0844 number will necessarily lead to a reduced quality of service to our patients.

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  • Citizens advice are using 0844 numbers despite the fact that they serve the 'needy'

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  • David Hickson

    It has taken a lot of time for the truth underlying what happens with 0844 numbers to emerge. The features available with all 084 / 087 / 09 / 080 / 03 and enhanced 01/02 numbers are identical - the difference is in the funding.

    When calling a 0844 number, the patient or CAB client pays a Service Charge to the benefit of the person being called (around 7p per minute) along with a (often greater) special Access Charge to their own telephone company. The Service Charge obviously offsets costs that would otherwise be incurred in providing the service, and would have to be met in other ways without it.

    One has to face the question about whether this is a legitimate and desirable way of funding services. New regulations are being introduce to "unbundle" the components, so users of 0844 (and other) numbers will have to declare their Service Charge. (Citizens Advice has opposed the introduction of this transparency, but confirms that it will be prepared to comply when forced to do so.)

    Whilst the NHS remains "free at the point of need", contracted providers cannot fund their services by imposing charges on patients. If the PPG referred to in the earlier comment understood what they were agreeing to, they were opposing the principles of the NHS. If they are are not now demanding a variation to the arrangement, by simply switching to an acceptable number, they are sanctioning a breach of the terms of the revised GP contract.

    Let those who oppose the principles of the NHS state their position clearly. I hope that the GP community would want to set an example of compliance to other NHS providers, who would also be able to provide better services if able to take payment from patients.

    I am well aware of the misleading information which has been circulated, and how this has led many practices into a most unhappy situation. If however they currently rely on an illegitimate source of funding - patients, who, in some cases, are at the same time are also paying excessive, but legitimate, additional charges to their telephone service providers - this cannot be allowed to continue.

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  • The cost of calling 0844 numbers from a mobile phone can be as much as 41p (source OFCOM http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/files/2010/01/numbering.pdf). With over 50% of calls in 2012 made from a mobile phone (source OFCOM), this does suggest that 0844 numbers are not suitable for this purpose. Ideally, the mobile phone operators will reduce the cost of calling 0844 numbers, but this does not look likely in the short term. Whilst we understand that 0844 numbers are suitable for many commercial applications and provide much needed revenue for the service provider, in this case the consumer has been forced to make a more expensive call for services they rely on. Windsor Telecom were instrumental in launching the 03 number ranges back in 2007 and have a wide portfolio of public sector/non-profit users. As calls to 03 numbers are included in many mobile phone bundled deals, they are inexpensive or free to call from a mobile phone. The organisation using them gets all the call handling benefits associated with 0800, 0845 and 0844 numbers

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  • This is entirely retrograde step that in effect wants wants the NHS to return to 'press button A then press button B and your 2p will go into the telephone box. There are of 350 organisations and government agencies using this style of number. There are over 600 suppliers of telephone tariffs there is one regulated supplier of telephone services [BT]. The people who make the money out of these services are the people who charge the patients directly e.g. those companies with whom the person has a telephone service supply contract. It would be far more beneficial for campaigners to get on to these people and have them change their tariff structure to allow 0844 into 'bundles' and not allow pricing at a whim. Much is made of the mobile phone costs the NHS was invented decades before anyone thought of mobile phones and could not have ever anticipated this development. The NHS should not be hogtied by well meaning do-gooders with their own agenda that stops development of (and it is quoted in the original DH guidance) modern telephony services.

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  • I havebeen battling with my billinghay practice now for some time,keep getting fobbed off with the comment "we need the income from the 0844 or the practise would not be able to run" but still spending over £2000 on an automated check in that has not benefited the surgery one bit. Please can the NHS fine these sugeries who are outwardly flouting themselves over this as they know nothing will be done to them and who have told me that they will not do away with this number untill they have to! upto then the patients are having to pay sometimes a huge price! HOW CAN THIS BE FAIR?

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  • While many government organisations are currently using 0845 and other such revenue share numbers, HMRC are moving ALL such phone lines to 03 numbers "by the end of Summer 2013". This move has been recommended for several years, and is finally happening.

    DWP have said they are "not moving" and so they will have to declare a 2p/min Service Charge wherever their numbers are advertised once the provisions of Ofcom's "unbundled tariffs" come into force in 2014.

    Organisations have hidden behind vague "calls cost 5p/min from a BT landline, other networks may charge more" pricing announcements for years. This will come to an end. Many organisations will not be able to justify imposing a Service Charge once they are forced to declare it.

    The Draft Bill on Consumer Rights will become law before the end of 2013. There's a long list of phone lines that must in future be "charged at no more than the basic rate" and this will force many users of 084 and 087 numbers to move to 01, 02 or 03 numbers.

    These combined measures will see a reduction in the number of 084 and 087 numbers in use and a large increase in the use of 03 numbers.

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  • @anonymous

    Rather than attempting to make phone companies charge the same for 084/087 calls as they do for 03 calls (somthing that cannot happen because callers to 084/087 numbers also pay a Service Charge to the benefit of the called party) campaigners are more focussed on ensuring that GPs move from 084/087 numbers to 01, 02 or 03 numbers and thereby comply with the terms of the GMS contract in place since April 2010.

    While "much is made of the mobile phone costs", it is with good reason. Callers pay up to 45p/min to call 084/087 numbers while calls to 01/02/03 numbers are included in all call packages. The development of the mobile phone could not have been "anticipated", but it was developed several decades before GPs decided to start using revenue share numbers. Since mobile phones do exist and are used by a large proportion of the population, their call costs can and should be taken into account here. That many GPs didn't bother to check the facts as to exactly what callers actually pay, should also not be ignored.

    Campigners have no intention of doing anything that "stops development of modern telephony services". All of the call management facilities found on 084 and 087 numbers are also available on 080 and 03 numbers. The implication that "only 084/087 numbers can support these functions" has recently been exposed as untrue. Indeed, a number of providers also offer these facilities on 01 and 02 numbers.

    By suggesting that calls to 084/087 numbers be charged the same as geographic numbers, all the while leaving the Service Charge in place, are you expecting phone companies to pay that charge without collecting it from the caller?

    If you're fine with there no longer being a Service Charge when patients call their GP, then you have no objection to them moving to 01, 02 or 03 numbers as required by the GMS contract.

    Ofcom have no intention of making 084 numbers be like 03 numbers. The DoH, however, require that GPs use a number where all callers "pay no more than calling a geographic number" whether from a landline, mobile or payphone.

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  • (updated)

    A GP surgery in a small but rapidly-expanding village is facing a crisis. The building is becoming run down and in any case is far too small for future needs. With only a small plot of land, and only a couple of parking spaces, there's no room to build an extension. Local planning rules also disallow adding extra height to the building, so extending upwards is not a viable option.

    One day the practice manager was out playing a round of golf, idly chatting about their situation with the owner of some land that is leased to a local theme park, and was made an amazing offer - one that was "almost too good be true".

    The land owner said the site was huge and that it would never all be used. There was plenty of room for a new surgery with sizeable car-park to be built. He explained that the surgery could lease a small part of the land for 50 years for a very cheap price. Indeed, as the theme park was having a new office block built later in the year, if they quickly agreed to it, they could also have the new surgery building erected at a minimal cost by using the same builders. They could also borrow the money from the land owner and pay it back over the 50 years.

    To sweeten the deal, he also said he would also pay the surgery one pound for every visitor coming to the surgery, and since he realised that GPs were not allowed to make a profit in this way, he said they could use that money to offset the costs of erecting the building and paying the lease. He also explained that as the theme park was only a short distance from the village it was still only a local journey for most patients.

    As it was such a good deal for the surgery, they went ahead with it.

    The new building looked great, and they moved in as soon as they could. All of the staff were given electronic passes to get in and out of the site via the staff entrance, and the surgery opened to patients in record time.

    The first patients were not at all happy. They explained they had to buy a theme park ticket to get into the site. It had cost five pounds per person. Thinking there was some sort of misunderstanding, the practice manager phoned the theme park and the bosses there explained that everyone had to pay to get into the site: a theme park ticket costs what a theme park ticket costs. He added that the prices are clearly advertised at the entrance and that the surgery had done no deal with the theme park, only with the land owner.

    The practice manager then phoned the land owner who pointed out they were getting a great deal: the new surgery building had cost them very little and the lease was cheap. He further added that the surgery should tell patients they are paying less than they would pay for a local car-park ticket or for petrol to drive to a neighbouring town, so it was still a good deal for patients. He also reminded the practice manager that the contract for the site and building ran for another 50 years. The land owner also stated that he only charged the theme park two pounds per visitor, and that what they charged the public was out of his control.

    The surgery manager then approached the theme park again, asking if patients could use the staff entrance. The theme park boss refused this saying that his contract with the land owner allowed only staff and certain contractors to use that entrance, and in any case he had no way of getting any extra passes that allow the holder to get through the electronically controlled gate.

    On approaching the land owner again, new options were now available to the surgery. The land owner said that as he was a fair and honest man he could vary the surgery contract after all.

    Under the new deal, the surgery would no longer receive a pound for each visitor towards the cost of the building, instead they would have to pay the land owner three pounds for each visitor arriving. This compensated him for the loss of revenue coming from the theme park ticket office. It also helped pay for the production of a new type of "surgery only" entrance ticket. This ticket would cost patients nothing.

    Alternatively, if the surgery paid for a new gravel track to be built, as well as a high wall around the surgery, they could have their own separate entrance, one that staff and patients could use without incurring any daily or per-visitor costs. The surgery would, however, have to pay for the building and the lease entirely from their own funds.

    When proper research isn't carried out as to "the arrangement as a whole", and when patients pay a third party, one that is decoupled from both the provider of a service to the surgery and from the surgery itself, havoc can ensue.

    Of course, such a scheme of co-payments, subsidies and associated shenanigans could never happen in the NHS!

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