Rotherham doctors accused over phone 'rip-off'

DOCTORS in Rotherham have been accused of flouting a ban on premium rate phone numbers which campaigners claim “rip off” patients.

The deadline for NHS surgeries to stop using phone numbers attracting a premium rate has now passed, but a newly compiled league table places South Yorkshire GPs in the number one spot.

A total of 152 GPs in South Yorkshire use “rip-off numbers,” according to campaigners, including 36 practices in Rotherham.

Dave Lindsay, of the SAYNOTO0870.COM campaign, said: “It is a rip-off.

“GPS won’t be charging on the door of their surgeries, but in effect they are charging patients over the phone.

Doctors should contact their telephone providers and switch to 03 numbers which cost no more than a geographic call.”

Under new contracts, NHS GPs are forbidden from using telephone numbers which cost patients more to call than a landline.

Surgeries had until April 1 to abandon their 0844 and 0845 numbers, which cost a premium of up to 41p per minute.

Landline calls can cost up to 12p a minute and mobile calls more than three times that figure, according to the campaigners.

They say that extra charges are made for a five-minute call to an 0844 or 0845 number which are not applied to 01 numbers.

The campaign urges the Government to stamp out the practice, as it pauses to consider its reform programme to our health service.

If it does not, patients will pay more for higher quality service.

The league table shows the total of surgeries within each of the new NHS PCT “clusters” and the South Yorkshire comes out on top.

The contract states that “having regard to the arrangement as a whole, persons will not pay more to make relevant calls to the practice than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number.”

A Department of Health consultation which closed two years ago concluded that patients should not pay more than a geographic call to ring their surgeries.

A table of call charges shows that patients pay up to just over £2 extra on a five minute call to a 084 number, versus a normal landline or 03 number.

Campaigners say that it is the call providers—the telephone companies patients make calls with—who set call prices.

They say therefore that any assurance by any individual GP’s provider that calls to its 084 number satisfy the Department of Health requirements is “worthless.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Rotherham said: “The majority of our practices use the 0844 numbers or a local number.

“Calls to 0844 numbers are charged at the same rate as a local call when dialed from a landline.

“The remaining three practices use a different telephone system provided by Network Europe Group that begin with 0845.

“NEG have confirmed that patients telephoning these practices are charged no more than the equivalent cost of a call to a geographical number.”