Automated GP calls anger Moy patients

A MOY mother has criticised her local GP surgery for using an expensive 0844 number.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Assembly warned local health practices to stop using the numbers, after it was told that dialling the number can cost between 1p and 13p per minute if a caller uses a land-line.

That charge can rise to between 20p and 41p per minute on a mobile telephone network.

The mother-of-two, who did not wish to be named, said she was surprised to see the numbers listed on her phone bill.

“I expected calls to my GP to be rated the same as a local call, as it is only around the corner.

“So I was surprised to see them listed separately.

“I have two young children and my husband and I have to contact our GP on a regular basis.

“It is a busy practice and I accept that they need to have some sort of call system in place to handle the volume of patients, but I don’t believe the cost should be passed onto patients.”

Moy Health Practice is one of 23 of Northern Ireland’s 355 GP surgeries which uses an 0844 number.

Doctors who use such numbers say they speed up access. With an 0844 number GPs get an automated telephone system, with a recorded message which helps to filter and direct calls.

The use of premium rate numbers in the NHS, such as those beginning 0870 or 09, was banned by the Department of Health in 2005. The ban excluded 084 numbers which, while they can cost more than a call to a geographic number, are not considered premium rate.

At the Northern Ireland Assembly, local MLAs highlighted cases where patients had spent £8 and £17 booking appointments from a mobile.

The Health Department has no legal power to ban practice.

However, 17 of the 23 health practices have said they would not be renewing their 0844 contract.