Health

GPs still use 084 phone lines despite government advice

Woman talking on a mobile phone
Image caption The NHS is monitoring the take-up of new telephony systems

Hundreds of GPs still use 084 phone lines despite being told not to by the Department of Health three years ago.

Landline calls cost around 5p a minute, but charges are considerably more from a mobile.

Radio 4's You & Yours found that 531 surgeries in England still use them, 29 in Wales and very few in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

NHS England said it was working to encourage practices to make telephone systems more accessible.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, relate to "special service" or non-geographic numbers.

Although the charge is the same as a local call from a landline, from a mobile they can cost 44p a minute.

The number of surgeries using 084 lines is around 6% of practices in England. Official figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland were unavailable, but only a small number of surgeries are thought to use the number.

The programme heard surgeries can be effectively stuck in telephony contracts, with one practice in East London saying it would have cost them £60,000 to leave.

Dr Richard Vautrey is from the British Medical Association's GP Committee. Until recently, his Leeds practice was still using an 084 number.

He said: "If any practice was to break its contract it would be very punitive and would cost money that wouldn't be replaced by the NHS elsewhere.

"We need to recognise many patients have found being able to get through without an engaged tone to be a good thing."

He suggested contracts taken out six or seven years ago would soon end and telecom companies were adjusting to keep GP business.

David Hickson from the Fair Telecoms Campaign says this is not how the NHS should be funded.

He said : "There is no excuse for any of these GPs to continue as they are. The provider has made it clear to GPs that they can change to geographic - or 03 numbers - before the end of their contracts, and pay for their systems correctly, as other GPs do."

In May Daisy Group, which owns most of the contracts, offered GPs the chance to change their 084 number to a geographical one.

It said ten GP practices had closed their 084 lines and switched to local numbers. The other option they were offered was to add an extra line - creating two telephone numbers and 200 surgeries have opted for this.

NHS England said: "Some of the major providers of 084 numbers have now introduced alternative numbers that provide patients with telephone access for the price of a local geographical number, but with the enhanced functionality of 084 numbers."

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