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MP urges GPs to stop use of 0844 numbers

An MP has called on GPs to stop using 0844 numbers in their practices, as new research shows 11% of surgeries are still using the premium-rate numbers.

From 1 April 2011, new rules were introduced that stated the costs of calls to practices must not exceed those of local calls.

But figures seen by Pulse show that 1,042 surgeries – around 11% of all surgeries in the UK – are still using the numbers.

Sheffield Heeley MP Meg Munn has intervened in her constituency and told GPs in the city to switch to cheaper, local-rate phone numbers.

‘Nobody should be paying for an expensive phone call just to contact their doctor,' she told local newspaper PostcodeGazette.

‘Many Sheffield GPs have already missed the deadline for changing to these cheaper numbers by over a year.'

Sheffield GPs are particularly under pressure to switch numbers because neighbouring Rotherham PCT has successfully made its GPs change to cheaper numbers.

A spokesperson for NHS Sheffield said: ‘Where practices are unable to migrate to a geographical-rate telephone number for contractual reasons – for example, they would incur significant financial penalties for terminating a contract early – they have a "call back policy" in place. This means patients can request that the practice calls them.'

The BMA and the Department of Health have claimed that the 0844 numbers are often cheaper than normal numbers.

But NHS campaigner David Hickson, who obtained figures showing 1,042 surgeries are still using the numbers, said this was not the case.

He said: ‘We are immensely disappointed in PCTs that have failed to enforce the terms of the GP contract, which are absolutely clear: use of these expensive numbers should have been stopped with 12 months of the new contract.

‘There is no 0844 number that is less expensive to call than a geographical number.'