All GP practices providing 084 numbers for patients to contact their surgeries will be threatened with breach of contract notices if they cannot prove that they are doing all they can to stop using the premium rate numbers.
NHS England said yesterday that it will be writing to all 27 area teams asking that they contact the 8% of GP practices still using 084 numbers to remind them that they will be in breach of contract if they ‘do not take all reasonable steps’ to stop using premium rate telephone numbers.
The move marks a dramatic escalation of a long-running battle to force practices to stop using the premium rate numbers, with previous guidance from the Department of Health simply urging practices not to enter into any new agreements with companies providing 084 numbers.
But NHS England says that providers of GP telephone systems – including Daisy Communications, the providers of Surgery Line – have agreed to move GPs to geographic-rate 03, 01 or 02 numbers with no contractual penalties.
It also added that even practices who provided a normal landline service, alongside an active 084 number, for their surgeries would be in breach of contract as they were providing an ‘inequitable’ service to patients.
NHS England announced earlier this year that it had asked local area teams to identify practices still using 0844 numbers, and pledged to ‘act upon’ the findings in due course.
NHS England’s head of primary care Dr David Geddes, said: ‘Research showed that some GPs felt unable to change things, because of real or perceived contracting problems, so we are aiming to bust some of the contracting myths, and to support practices to make sure their patients get the best service.
‘If GPs are not doing everything they can to change, then they are not providing an equitable service and are in breach of their contracts. We expect our area teams to use their local understanding and authority to make sure appropriate action is taken wherever GPs are not making this a priority.’
NHS England said it would ‘continue to monitor GPs’ progress’ and will audit practices’ telephony services again in 2014.