Jo Steele reports in the Metro how Health Minister Mike O’Brien has ruled that premium rate call charges for patients calling their GP or Hospital are to be banned.
The “084” phone lines are thought to be used by about 1,200 GP practices and hospitals and are often misleadingly referred to as “local call” numbers. In the Telecom industry they are much more accurately called “Revenue-Share” numbers as they actually pay out revenues to the recipient of the call (ie. the Hospital or GP practice).
Whilst the businesses behind these care organisations may have tried to justify these costs because they helped them upgrade call handling systems and finance the large number of calls that they receive, the premium nature meant that this unfair tax discriminated against some of the most needy and deserving patients for example those who can’t access the internet or have mobility needs which limit their ability to call in person. Callers who used mobile phones were penalised even more with common instances of “Bill Shock” when a patient checked their bill a month later to realise that they had been paying as much as 40p a minute for the call.
Mike O’Brien, Health Minister said: ‘We want to reassure the public that when they contact their local GP or hospital, the cost of their call will be no more expensive than if they had dialled a normal landline number”
Katherine Murphy, Director of the Patients’ Association said: “Asking patients to pay extra costs for phone calls was unreasonable. Let’s hope the change happens as quickly as possible”
It remains to be seen the impact this ban will have on the NHS Direct that uses the 0845 46 47 number to handle millions of advice calls with the catchy strapline “We’re Here Whenever You Need Advice and Information”.
It’s impossible to measure the negative impact this type of activity has had on patient confidence in engaging with their care teams over the phone, but at least some end is in sight as the ban will be introduced in the next few months and follows a similar successful ban in 2005 regarding the use of 0870/0871 numbers. The ban will not require number changes so that patients can continue to dial numbers starting “084” to get through to their surgery… but i wonder how many bitten patients will remain twice shy?