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Single national number for GP appointments ‘overwhelmingly rejected’ by public

A Scottish Government survey on GP telephone systems found that the public ‘overwhelmingly rejected’ the introduction of a national number for GP appointments and a centralised switchboard system to route calls to individual practices.

The survey formed part of a consultation on the future of GP telephone systems, which ran between March and June this year and included five proposals for changing the way GP phone systems are run.

Seventy-nine of 98 respondents – who were mostly a mix of GPs, GP organisations and patients – opposed the national number idea, and about 70% of respondents also called for a ban on the use of 084 numbers, which incur an extra cost to callers from mobiles.

More than three-quarters of respondents rejected the idea of requiring all practices to adopt a 030 prefix, introduced by Ofcom specifically for public sector organisations, but which incur a charge on the organisation receiving the call to cover the cost of extra functions.

The Scottish Government this week published a report summarising the survey results and consultation responses.

On the issue of introducing a centralised switchboard system to route GP calls, the report states: ‘The proposal to introduce an NHS24-style 111 system to log calls and pass these through to GP practices was overwhelmingly rejected by respondents. Added complexity, added bureaucracy and a lack of local identity were the main themes given in reason for this view.’

Concerning the proposal to require all GPs to adopt a 030 prefix, the report says: ‘Those GP respondents who already use a local geographical number said this would confuse their patients. Many respondents said the cost would be too high for what would be an unnecessary change.

‘While these would be included in most mobile phone call plans, it would take away from the local attachment many GP surgeries have with their own local number.’

Eighty-two out of 98 respondents said all GPs should have to use local geographical numbers. 

The report states: ‘The majority of people thought that the most obvious and sensible solution would be to have every GP surgery with a local geographical number (01). Several reasons were cited for this, including local identity, cost of calling kept at its lowest and that it would also be easier for the elderly or infirm to type the number as the area code could be omitted if calling locally.’

A split emerged on the proposal requiring practices to introduce a ring-back system, allowing patients to leave a phone message and for practices to call them back. 

Fifty-nine of 98 respondents opposed this idea, but many patents were in favour, the Scottish Government said. Opponents said such a scheme would be costly to practices and that patients could miss the call when the practice phoned back.