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FOI response - Old Town Surgery, Bexhill-on-Sea (Read 8,781 times)
idb
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FOI response - Old Town Surgery, Bexhill-on-Sea
Oct 6th, 2007 at 2:48am
 
My FOI questions to Old Town Surgery and subsequent response:

[preamble cut]


I am a British citizen who is a permanent resident of the United States. I am concerned that an increasing number of health care facilities, such as Old Town Surgery, Bexhill-on-Sea, are using non-geographic telephone numbers (also known as NTS numbers), primarily in the 0844 range, as the only means by which a patient, or indeed an individual calling on behalf of a patient, can contact the surgery by telephone.

Ofcom, the regulatory authority for telecommunications in the United Kingdom, provided the following response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by myself in 2005 which included the question "Is Ofcom aware of the difficulties experienced by people trying to access non-geographic numbers from overseas?". Ofcom's response is shown below:

[begin quote]

Ofcom is the national regulatory authority for communications in the UK. Ofcom does not control access to UK services in other countries. Such access is regulated by a combination of commercial arrangements (egg, for NTS, non-geographic numbering) within a framework set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (eg, for geographic and mobile numbering).

Ofcom is aware that callers may experience difficulty in accessing UK non-geographic numbers from outside the UK. This results from uncertainties over financial returns for routing between international operators caused by the variable cost of calls and imbalances between charges that can be retained or passed on through international arbitrage. UK residents dialling the non-geographic numbers of other countries from the UK frequently experience the same or similar problems. Individual countries do not normally permit access to non-geographic numbers from overseas. This is because these services are differently priced from geographic services and it is impossible for an operator in the originating country (which in many cases may not be transmitting the international part of the call) to know what the appropriate price and for the correct amount to be passed via several carriers and be paid to the terminating operator.

[end quote]

Further evidence relating to the inability of foreign networks to terminate calls to 0844, and similar numbers can be found in two Ofcom documents relating to the NTS review. Selected quotations are shown below, together with links to the original documents:

[begin]

Number Translation Services:
A way forward
Publication date: 28 September 2005

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/nts_forward/nts_way_forward.pdf

Paragraph 1.7

Provision of public services: there has been growing concern over the inappropriate use of revenue sharing numbers by some public services, fuelled by several cases which have attracted a high level of media attention. The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that many NTS numbers may not be accessible from overseas networks, preventing access for UK residents who are overseas or other international callers.

Paragraph 3.8

A few consumers, some of whom responded from overseas said that NTS numbers couldn’t always be accessed from abroad making it difficult for them to contact essential public sector services.

Paragraph 4.38

A further difficulty with public sector use of 08 numbers is that some 08 number ranges may be inaccessible when calling from abroad. Ofcom has had a number of complaints from UK citizens based overseas who have been unable to contact public services provided on NTS numbers.

Paragraph 6.177

Ofcom is also concerned that some public services may not be accessible from overseas locations because some foreign operators restrict access to 08 number ranges. Ofcom proposes to raise this issue with the European Regulators Group (‘ERG’), and to explore the scope for remedial action.

[end]

[begin]

NTS: A Way Forward
Statement
Publication date: 19 April 2006

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/nts_forward/statement/statement.pdf

Paragraph 4.50

As discussed in more detail in Annex 4, Ofcom has also obtained information from BT and C&W (the two largest TCPs) on the proportions of incoming 084 and 087 traffic, which originates abroad. Based on this information, Ofcom estimates that between 1.5% and 5.5% of 0845 and 0870 traffic originates abroad. BT told Ofcom that it blocks almost all international inbound traffic to 0844 and 0871 numbers because of concerns about fraud and C&W told Ofcom that they block some traffic because historically there had been little demand for these ranges to be opened for international access. It was not possible to estimate reliably the proportion of 0844 and 0871 calls that originate abroad because it is unclear whether BT and C&W are typical in blocking international access to 0844 and 0871 numbers. If BT is typical it would suggest that the vast majority of traffic is blocked. However, this hypothesis is somewhat at odds with the results of the sample survey, which shows that 0871 numbers can be accessed from approximately 20% of foreign networks and C&W, indicated that it only blocks some inbound traffic to 0844 and 0871 numbers.

...
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idb
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Re: FOI response - Old Town Surgery, Bexhill-on-Se
Reply #1 - Oct 6th, 2007 at 2:50am
 
...

Paragraph A2.471

International access to 0844 and 0871

A number of CPs and resellers believed that the 0844 and 0871 ranges would be a poor substitute for some SPs migrating from the 0845 and 0870 ranges because those ranges can not always be called from abroad. Views on the extent of international access varied but there was general agreement that it is much more restricted than for 0845 and 0870 which were generally thought to be accessible from most foreign networks. Some resellers believed that 0844 and 0871 numbers can not be accessed from abroad at all.

[end]


My FOI questions for Old Town Surgery as follows:

1 - Does the surgery believe that, for those patients who travel overseas, either for business or for pleasure, telephone access to the surgery for the purpose of making, changing or canceling appointments, or for obtaining test result outcomes or similar issues, should be possible from international networks?

2 - Does the surgery believe that, in emergency situations that arise overseas, it should be possible for healthcare professionals in other countries to be able to make telephone contact with the surgery?

3 - In the light of Ofcom's statements above relating to the problems in accessing NTS numbers from overseas, particularly with respect to the blocking of international inbound traffic to 0844 numbers, does the surgery believe that it is appropriate for GP surgeries to offer only NTS numbers (0844 and 0870) as the sole method of telephone contact?

4 - Old Town surgery provides an 0844 number for UK callers and an 0870 number for international callers, however, according to Ofcom statements above, the same problem regarding the uncertainty of international termination to 0870 calls applies as it does for any other 08 NTS number. Can you confirm that Old Town Surgery has a geograpgic (i.e. one that begins 01 or 02) that can be used in lieu of 0844 or 0870, and if so, what is this number?

5 - What assurances has the surgery been given, from the supplier of your 0844 system, that telephone access from overseas is actually possible and effective?

6 - Is the surgery aware that Ofcom has introduced an NTS range, beginning 03, that provides exactly the same call routing facilities as 0844 numbers, but is treated as a geographic range in terms of cost and accessibility from overseas, and does the surgery intend to adopt this new 03 range?

7 - Is the surgery aware that its website promotes 0844 calls as 'lo-call' rate which is incorrect, misleading and possibly unlawful, and if so, what action will the surgery take to prevent this deception?

8 - Is the surgery aware that on January 24, 2005 John Hutton (Minister of State for Health) announced a ban on the use of NHS service providers requiring patients to use premium and national rate telephone numbers to call NHS services in their area, which includes 087 'national rate' numbers. Why does Old Town Surgery ignore this ban by continuing to use an 0870 number for overseas callers given there is no guarantee that numbers can, in fact, be terminated to this number from overseas.
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Re: FOI response - Old Town Surgery, Bexhill-on-Se
Reply #2 - Oct 6th, 2007 at 2:53am
 
Re: Request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Further to your email dated 18 September 2007, I do not consider questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 are covered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as you are requesting the practices opinion or view on these matters and as the practices opinions or views on these matters are not held in written or electronic form the information is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, however, I am happy to reply to the points you raise as follows:

1 – The practice PMS contract is UK based and the NHS does not undertake to provide care or access to care to patients when they are overseas unless they have been referred there under specific contracts, however, we accept that it is sometimes desirable for patients to access information etc whilst out of the area which is why we offer the 0870 number for this purpose which the patient can make the decision whether they choose to use or not.

2 – As above.  Our fax number is also advertised on our website and healthcare professionals may also use this facility to contact the surgery.

3 – In the quotes you include in your email I can find no reference to 0870 numbers being inaccessible from overseas in fact Paragraph A2.471 states that 0870 numbers were generally thought to be accessible from most foreign networks.  Our 0844 number is only for use inside the UK.

4 – As above.  I confirm we do not have a geographic number accessible to patients or the public.

5 – We were supplied the 0870 number by our telephone system provider as there were known problems with overseas access to 0844 numbers, there were no assurances given regarding access.  I personally and some of my colleagues have used the 0870 number to contact the surgery when overseas with no difficulty.  

6 – The practice does not at this time have any plans to change to the 03 range of numbering.

7 – I have taken advice from our system supplier and Ofcom and been assured by both that the term ‘lo-call’ for 0844 rate numbers is neither incorrect nor unlawful, however, I accept that the term may be misleading and will therefore arrange for the term ‘lo-call’ to be removed from the website entry.

8 – Please see answer to question 1 above.

Yours sincerely

Tricia Busbridge
Practice Manager

Sue Eaton
Assistant to the Practice Manager
Old Town Surgery
13 De La Warr Road
Bexhill on Sea
East Sussex
TN40 2HG
Tel. 0844 477 8638
Fax. 0870 890 2467


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« Last Edit: Oct 6th, 2007 at 2:54am by idb »  

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