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Controversy over GP use of 0844 numbers

By Ian Quinn

GPs are being accused of breaching new rules banning the use of 0844 practice numbers.

Campaigner David Hickson has named more than 1,000 practices, using information compiled on the NHS Choices website, that he claims are in breach of new regulations.

From April 1, the costs of calls to practices must not exceed those of local calls. He has written to PCTs urging them to take action against the practices – prompting practices to accuse him of harassment.

Mr Hickson said: ‘I have urged every PCT to refer to this information, and take the necessary action to enforce the terms of clause 29B of the GMS contract.'

The clause states that no practice should enter into contracts or renew them unless it is satisfied patients will not pay more to make calls than the equivalent call to a geographical number.

However, the BMA and the Department of Health have backed the continued use of 084 numbers, which they say in some cases are cheaper than local calls.

Network Europe Group, a provider for 1,500 GPs using 0844 numbers, strongly denied Mr Hickson's allegations and said the practices were entitled to retain the services, and a spokesperson for the company insisted GPs ‘are doing nothing wrong'.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'NHS organisations remain free to use non-geographical number ranges such as 084, providing that patients are not charged more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to do so.

'It is up to PCTs to ensure that GP practices comply with this in line with their standard contract.'