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Practices can switch from 0844 numbers without incurring penalties, says supplier

A major supplier of 0844 telephone numbers has said practices will be allowed to change to a cheaper number within the terms of their contract.

The Daisy Group has told practices they will impose no financial penalties on practices who want to switch from an 0844 number to a geographical number, despite claims at the LMC conference in May that changing numbers could cost practices up to £60,000.

However, the practices who change to lower rate numbers could face higher bills in the long term as the costs of the calls would be shifted from the caller to the practice, the company said.

The company also confirmed that it was no longer selling the 0844 numbers to NHS organisations, having previously said it was going to stop marketing them.

There is estimated to be more than 900 practices using 0844 numbers, which charge callers a premium rate. Earlier this year, following public pressure NHS England announced it wanted to crack down on GPs’ use of premium phone numbers, and has asked local area teams to identify practices still using them.

A spokesperson for Daisy Line said: ‘Surgery Line customers are not forced to continue using 0844 numbers until their long-term contracts end – it is open to them to move to a geographic number on request. Such customers can switch, free of charge, to numbers charged at the geographic rate.’

However, the spokesperson confirmed that practices may have increased bills if they switched to a lower rate number, because 0844 numbers include a ‘revenue share’ subsidy as the cost was passed on to callers.

Practices who change to a geographical number will have to pick up the cost of the ‘revenue share’ subsidy and pay the full amount for the contract.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman, said practices are already looking to change their numbers.

He said: ‘Now that technology has improved practices should be reviewing their options and consulting their telecoms provider to see whether an alternative plan can be agreed. Some are already seeking to return to using local geographical numbers.’

Mr David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms campaign has said there are 938 GPs still using 0844 telephone numbers.

He urged GPs still doing so to change to geographical numbers even if this meant foregoing the revenue share subsidy.

He said: ‘Some GPs want their patients to continue subsidising their telephone system. As this is a clear breach of the principles of the NHS, we await the reaction of patients of any surgery which now refuses to switch. As this is a clear breach of the terms of the contracts held with NHS England, we await the action which it will take following “active research”.’

He added: ‘Clearly additional payments from patients impact a practice budget, affecting its ability to deliver services. GPs who choose to work within our taxation-funded NHS must recognise that this option is not available to them. The generous public funding they receive must be used effectively and wisely to deliver the best possible service. This includes acquiring telephone systems.’