Department of Health
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HUTTON RINGS THE CHANGES ON NHS TELEPHONE NUMBERS

National and Premium Rate Phone Numbers Banned From April

Health Minister John Hutton today announced a ban on expensive telephone numbers that charge patients over the odds to call NHS services in their area. The ban will protect patients from paying premium and national rates to call local NHS healthcare services, such as their GP or dentist, in future.

From April, NHS organisations will not be able to set up new premium and national rate telephone numbers for patients contacting local services.

John Hutton also announced that the GP practices currently using national rate telephone lines will be expected to change these to 'lo-call' rate numbers, which offer patients a guaranteed low call rate. The switch to these numbers should be completed by the spring.

John Hutton said:

"Sick people and their families should not be asked to pay over the odds to contact local NHS services. The use of premium and national rate telephone numbers is an unfair additional cost for many NHS patients. That is why we are taking this action today."

Michael Summers, chairman, The Patients Association, said:

"The Patients Association welcomes this announcement. Many patients were contacting us as calls were so expensive, particularly when surgeries were busy or engaged. This decision will be welcomed by patients generally."

Around 290 GP practices have established national rate lines, which charge up to 7.5p per minute, for taking patient appointments and for requesting repeat prescriptions.

National rate telephone numbers start with an '087' prefix. Premium rate telephone numbers start with the digits '09'. The only special service numbers the NHS will be able to use in future are freephone numbers or those that offer patients a guaranteed low rate call, such as '0845' or '0844' numbers.

The ban will be enforced through changes to the relevant legislation and guidance, including revised contracts for GPs and directions to NHS Trusts. It will also apply to NHS dentists, NHS opticians and GP out of hours service providers.

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NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. From 1 April 2005, NHS organisations providing local services will not be able to adopt national or premium rate numbers. This will be achieved through:

- GP practices - amendments to GMS regulations

- APMS and PCTMS practices, including out of hours providers - amendments to directions

- NHS Trusts and PCTs - directions

2. GP practices currently using national rate telephone lines will be expected to change these to 'lo-call' numbers, under an arrangement between the Department of Health and the principal supplier. The department will make funding of around 500 per practice available for them to switch from national rate to lo-call numbers. The department will be working with PCTs to identify which practices will be entitled to the additional funding.

3. Dentists will be included in the ban. However, it will take longer to make the changes to the relevant legislation. The department expects the ban to be in place by summer 2005.

4. Pharmacists will not be included within the ban. Pharmacies remain able to use premium rate numbers to support their private commercial activities.

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