Calling Sheffield 0114 3 . . . . . . .

A 77-year-old widow is being plagued by irate callers after falling victim to a major Sheffield dialling code change introduced apparently without warning.

New 01143 numbers are being issued after all usable combinations under the 01142 code 'ran out'. One has been assigned to the GP out-of-hours service at the Northern General Hospital.

But people are continuing to dial the '2' before punching in the seven-digits of the new number that starts with a '3'.

Anguished people with sick relatives are connecting to Joyce Godbehere's home in Sandygate, Sheffield, demanding help at all hours of the night.

Daughter Julie, aged 47, said her mum had had a woman screaming down the phone that her husband was unconscious, others had demanded an urgent visit from a GP.

She'd even had to explain the change to a GP who rang by mistake, Julie added.

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And after a weekend away Joyce's answer machine was jammed with messages, including three from the same hysterical man pleading for help.

Julie added: "It's been absolutely horrendous for mum, she's being harassed and her nerves are shot, she doesn't need this.

"It's not just mum who is suffering, people aren't getting the medical service they are entitled to. And her elderly friends are confused when they hear her new answering machine message because it informs people wanting a GP that they've misdialled - although it seems they're the only ones who actually listen to it.

"The whole thing is a mess, why hasn't this been publicised? The last time there was a number change it was drummed into us for a year.

"And why has anyone allowed numbers to be issued that are so similar to the old ones?"

Joyce's provider BT had offered to change her number, but she had refused.

Julie added: "She's had that number for over 50 years, if it changes there's a real chance she'll lose contact with people."

Helen Stevens of NHS Sheffield said they had been allocated 1,000 numbers by NTL Telewest starting with 01143.

The NHS had offered to pay to inform all of Mrs Godehere's contacts if she changed her number, she added. Ms Stevens said: "I'm afraid changing our number isn't simple, it would be a massive operation costing thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money.

"And changing it to another of our assigned numbers will only give the same problem to someone else. It seems we are one of the first organisations to get an 01143 number and people just aren't used to it."

She had asked BT if a message could be put on Mrs Godbehere's line about the number change but a BT spokesman said this had proved impossible.

An NTL spokesman said it was inappropriate to make any comment.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: "The dialling code for Sheffield is 0114. Ofcom allocates phone numbers in blocks to communications providers who then make them available for use to homes, businesses and organisations.

"All 0114 2 numbers have been allocated and the next set of numbers that Ofcom has made available is 0114 3. Both 0114 2 and 0114 3 are now being used widely in the Sheffield area."

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