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Patients turning away from GPs using 0845 numbers
THE NHS is urging GP surgeries across the region to turn their backs on contracts that see patients facing telephone charges of up to 41p per minute.
Many surgeries require patients to call expensive 0844 or 0845 numbers to book an appointment, receive advice or get test results.
It is feared the situation could be causing people to avoid contacting their GP, meaning vulnerable people could be left at risk.
Government guidelines required GP practices to review their existing arrangements by April 2011 - but two years on many surgeries are still using the 08 numbers – including several in the North-East.
One Darlington patient, who asked not to be identified, said she avoided calling her doctor as she did not want to run up an expensive phone bill.
“A lot of old people or unemployed people are scared to phone up because it is so expensive," she said. "I will only phone now if it is an emergency.
“People are putting themselves in danger by not calling their doctors and they are usually the ones who need the support the most. This is not right.”
The Northern Echo approached a number of GP surgeries still using 08 numbers but most practice managers declined to comment.
One surgery, however, has listened to their patients and changed their number to a local rate one.
Liz Stewart, practice manager at the Felix House Surgery in Darlington, said: “We changed our number on August 1 and would have done it earlier but we were tied into a long contract.
“We had so many patients complaining about the charges. At first we believed it was just like a local phone number but that was only if you were calling from a BT line.
“The issue kept coming up at our patient-led group as one of our downfalls and we tried to get it changed as quickly as possible.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “NHS England supports guidance from the Department of Health that GP practices should not renew or enter into any new contracts for telephone services that would mean patients pay more than the cost of a geographical call to their practice.
“We are actively auditing the extent to which GP practices are reliant on 084 numbers, which generally speaking carry a higher cost to the patient.”
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