GP surgeries still using rip-off 0844 numbers

Data retention.
Data retention.

A Dungannon District GP surgery is still using an expensive automated call system, in spite of repeated warnings from the Department of Health.

Local patients have complained of the charges after seeing the calls listed separately on their telephone bills.

The Department of Health has warned local health practices to stop using the numbers, after it was revealed that dialling the numbers can cost between 1p and 13p per minute if a caller uses a land-line.

Only 18 GP surgeries in the North still use an 0844 number after a crackdown against the potentially lucrative practice, according to the Department of Health’s announcement last week.

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

Health Minister Edwin Poots said his department closely monitors GP surgeries to ensure that they are complying with their statutory obligations not to renew or extend their current 0844 telephone contract.

However, he added that he does not have the powers to ban GP surgeries from using the numbers.

Many of the GP surgeries have said they will not be renewing their contracts with the providers. 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.

Local MLAs highlighted cases where patients had spent £8 and £17 booking appointments from a mobile.