High cost calls to GPs a rip-off!

DOCTORS are under attack from a Dearne MP, for “ripping off” their patients by using high cost telephone numbers.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey is calling for the disuse of numbers that can cost patients up to 40p per minute to call their GP.

The MP has carried out research which shows that more than two thirds of GP practices in Rotherham and nearly three quarters of practices in Barnsley are still using higher rate 0845 and 0844 numbers.

These numbers can cost patients up to 40p per minute if calling from a mobile and 12p per minute – plus a set up fee of up to 13p – if calling from a landline not provided by BT.

Mr Healey said: “It is costing patients more to access what should be an open NHS service. Telecoms companies and some GPs are profiting at the expense of patients, when Government guidelines created by the last Labour Government should rule this out.

“When families find money is tight, and everyone is trying to cut costs, no one should be paying over the odds to get in touch with their doctor”.

The MP appeals to constituents to provide further evidence of this practice. He said: “I’d like to hear first-hand from people who find they pay heavily for phone calls to their GP”.

The Government issued Directions in 2009 and Regulations in 2010 which said patients should not be charged more to call their doctor than to call a local geographical number (01709 in Rotherham and 01226 in Barnsley). This includes the cost of calling surgeries from all mobile phone providers and payphones.

A consultation showed 084 numbers allowed GPs to generate an income through revenue-sharing schemes. Then, money from callers goes towards the cost of providing the number, including renting equipment. Mr Healey said: “I’m calling on Andrew Lansley to put a stop to GPs using these expensive numbers once and for all”. He has also written to the chief executives of Barnsley and Rotherham Primary Care Trusts as it is currently their responsibility to ensure local practices follow Government guidelines.