Patients at a GP surgery in the city will no longer have to call a pricey premium rate phone line to book appointments following pressure from The Star.
Rules were introduced in 2010 to stop GP surgeries forcing patients to dial expensive 0844 numbers for appointments, prescriptions or any enquiries.
But The Crookes Practice, in School Road, Sheffield, was continuing to use a premium line last week – making it the only surgery in the city still flouting the rules.
While the surgery did offer a landline number, this did not allow patients to enter a queue and would register as engaged until all calls on the 0844 line had cleared.
Patients calling the 0844 number on a mobile had been paying up to 51 pence per minute and those using a landline up to 16 pence per minute.
Six pence of that fee went to the surgery’s telephone system provider – the rest went to network operators.
David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms Campaign, said: “The NHS gives surgeries money to provide their services, including a telephone system.
“Surgeries must provide the very best system they can afford without charging patients.
“Patients who cannot afford to dial the premium rate line get a substantially reduced service. This goes against the very principle of the NHS and it is totally unacceptable.”
But after The Star put pressure on the surgery – and arranged a meeting between partners and campaigners – the line was ditched yesterday.
Partners at Crookes Medical Practice have apologised to patients, but insisted they had been given incorrect advice from the telephone system provider.
Dr Kate Carr, a partner at the surgery, said yesterday: “We are delighted to say that, as of today, we will have a local rate number for all patients wishing to contact the practice.
“We have been working towards this for a long time and would like to thank patients for their ongoing patience.”
“In the interim for those who still ring the 0844 number we have arranged for a message to inform you of the change of number.
Patients can now call 0114 267 1280 for appointments and enquiries.
David said he was ‘delighted’ that the practice had ditched the premium line.
He added that the Government deserved more criticism for failing to enforce the rules on premium lines.