GP surgeries are still using premium rate dialling codes - JOIN THE DEBATE

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South Yorkshire GP practices are continuing to use phone numbers that charging up to 41p a minute when patients contact a surgery - flouting a Department of Health deadline which said they should not be charged at more than local rate after April 1.

In Sheffield, 93 surgeries use 0844 or 0845 numbers, followed by 36 in Rotherham, 21 in Barnsley and four in Doncaster. The numbers can attract a premium rate.

High charges happen most commonly when patients call from a mobile, but also occur with some landlines.

Rates vary between different providers, but can reach 41p a minute according to David Lindsay, founder of the Say No To 0870 campaign.

David Hickson, another campaigner, has compiled a table of the number of PCTs flouting new regulations introduced on April 1.

The rules ask surgeries to take reasonable steps to ensure patients do not pay more than they would to make an equivalent geographic call, although 084 numbers have not been banned.

Options include switching back to a local 0114, 01709, 01226 or 01302 number, or reverting to an 03 number. All 03 numbers charge no more than the cost of a local call regardless of whether they are called by a landline or mobile.

But Mr Lindsay, aged 31, of Kirk Sandall, Doncaster, says practices in the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw PCT cluster are at the top of the national table for the highest number of surgeries using 084 numbers.

He said: “People use many different phone providers and it is down to these providers, not the surgeries, to charge the cost of the call. The NHS should be free at the point of need - you wouldn’t expect to be charged by the GP on the door of the surgery, but that is in effect what is happening.”

Azizzum Akhtar, from the Sheffield Local Involvement Network, which promotes patient and public involvement in health and social care said: “As a rule, calls to a GP practice should cost no more than a local call. We’re disappointed so many surgeries missed the deadline and would urge a swifter transition.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Sheffield, where 93 out of 114 surgeries are still using 084 numbers, said work was on-going to promote the transition to new phone numbers as soon as possible.

She said: “We are working with phone providers to come up with the best solution for those practices who haven’t already got an 0114 or a 03 number.

“We want to reassure patients that we are working hard to make sure these changes happen as soon as feasible and we will make sure patients know about any changes to their GP practice phone number.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Rotherham said: “We are working with GPs across Rotherham to ensure patients are not charged more than the recommended rates for telephone calls to their GP practice.”

A spokesman for NHS Barnsley added: “While for some it is still possible to be charged more than the cost of a landline call when phoning from a mobile, we are committed to supporting those GPs that operate 084 numbers to make changes. These arrangements are due to be reviewed again in May when we will be seeking to move these practices onto the 03 number.”