The Scottish Government is looking at a call-back service for GP appointment booking, whereby patients would text the practice and receive a phonecall back from reception when a line is free.
This would end the ‘frustration’ of having to try multiple times to get through to busy receptions, the Government said.
The proposal is one of the options proposed in a consultation which is also looking at ending patients having to pay to phone their GP practice in the instance that they are still using 084 numbers.
The consultation said: ‘If a patient rings the GP Practice and the line is engaged or they are held in a queue, it can be frustrating and expensive for the patient. One option may be to have a “ring back” service, where the patient types in their phone number and once the line is available or they reach first in the queue they are called back by the practice.’
Other options included an outright ban on the use of the number, which is not classed as ‘premium rate’ because it does not cost extra from landlines but does accrue an an extra charge from most mobile operators.
The consultation also suggested a national switchboard number that patients could call first and which would then pass them onto their GP reception, thereby sidestepping having to call the 084 number.
Although similar to England’s NHS 111 or Scotlands NHS 24 service in that it would be one and the same number to call for all practices, unlike 111 it would not include triaging of symptoms.
The consultation noted that should the Government completely ban 084 numbers it would have to allow time for existing contracts between practices and telephone providers to expire. It also acknowledged this could impact on practices’ business interests in cases of profit sharing.
The document said: ‘In respect of independent GP practices, these proposals will benefit patients as they will no longer be disadvantaged when calling their GP practice, however the practice itself may lose any revenue sharing agreement that they may have with their telephone provider.’
In England, commissioners have already moved to stamp out the use of 084 numbers leading to hundreds of practices being threatened with breach of contract notices in 2013. In Scotland only premium numbers, which would also accrue extra charges from a landline, are banned.