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FOI response - Department of Health (Read 5,849 times)
idb
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FOI response - Department of Health
Oct 16th, 2007 at 11:38pm
 
Not very useful - I think the questions need to be rephrased.

Thank you for your email of 18 September to the Department of Health requesting, under the Freedom of Information Act, information about non-geographic telephone numbers. Your email has been passed to me for reply.

The Department of Health has now completed its search for the information you requested.

Some of the information you have requested is not held by this Department. Specifically, in your questions 1 to 4 you ask:

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

2 - Does the Department of Health 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 a patient's GP 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 Department of Health believe that it is appropriate for GP surgeries to offer only an 0844 number as the sole method of telephone contact?

4 - Some GP surgeries provide 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. Does the Department of Health believe that GP surgeries using 0844 and 0870 numbers should provide a geographic number which is the only near guarantee of effecting termination of internationally-originated calls?

In relation to the following question:

5 - What assurances has the Department of Health been given, from the supplier of 0844 systems, that telephone access from overseas to those GP surgeries using 0844 numbers is actually possible?

I have established that the information you requested is not held by this Department.

In relation to the question:

6 - Is the Department of Health 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 Department of Health intend to advise GP surgeries currently using 0844 numbers to adopt this new 03 range?

The Department of Health believes that NHS organisations, as providers of public services, have a duty to ensure that they provide the best service possible without exploiting, or allowing to be exploited, those whom they serve.  The Department enforced this message when former Health Minister John Hutton announced a ban on the use of national and premium rate telephone numbers (‘087’ ‘09’) by the NHS in February 2005.

At the time the Department announced that we would consider the use of ‘084’ numbers in the light of the Ofcom review.  After Ofcom published the outcome of the review, the former Minister of State for Reform, Lord Warner, wrote to Primary Care Trust (PCT) Chief Executives on 19 December last year about the use of non-geographical (‘084’) telephone numbers used by NHS services.  The letter did not suggest that GP practices should break contracts but drew attention to the Central Office of Information guidance on telephone numbers.  PCTs were asked to ensure that NHS dentists, NHS opticians and GP practices, including out-of-hours providers in their area, consider carefully the best option for their patients, who should not have to pay over the odds to contact their local services.

This letter is available on the Department’s website at:

www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Lettersandcirculars/Dearcolleaguelett...

It is for PCTs, who are responsible for commissioning services locally, and individual practices to decide what is in their customers’ best interests.  In his letter, Lord Warner asked PCTs to consider what actions they need to take locally to ensure that patients telephoning practices do not pay more than they would if they called a local geographical (‘01’) telephone number.

A copy of this letter is also enclosed for your information.

In relation to the question:

7 - Is the Department of Health aware that some GP surgeries are promoting/advertising 0844 calls as 'local rate' or 'lo-call' rate which is incorrect, misleading and possibly unlawful, and if so, what action will the Department of Health take to prevent this deception?

I have established that the Department does not collect or hold this information.

In relation to the question:

8 - Does the Department of Health maintain any records relating to the number of GP surgeries that have adopted 0844 numbers, and if so, how many surgeries have adopted this numbering regime?

I have established that the Department does not collect or hold this information. The only information that is available is anecdotal and cannot be substantiated, as exemplified by The Times article at this link:

www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article2120932.ece

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. [...]
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jgxenite
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Re: FOI response - Department of Health
Reply #1 - Oct 17th, 2007 at 8:08am
 
Sounds like they've taken this "holding information" thing to the extreme, using it to avoid answering practically every question.
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loddon
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Re: FOI response - Department of Health
Reply #2 - Oct 17th, 2007 at 10:57am
 
There are strict and particular rules for answering questions under the FOIA.    It is all set out on the Information Commissioner's website : ---
http://www.ico.gov.uk/    Guidance on obtaining info under the Act is provided at : ---
http://www.ico.gov.uk/Home/what_we_cover/freedom_of_information.aspx

I believe that the rules are intended to ensure that questions are answered accurately and in a specified way.   This is that they must not answer questions about opinion or knowledge that they may or may not have.   They are only supposed to answer questions of fact by making documents available which they possess.   They are not expected, or allowed, to create documents in order to answer questions.   That is my understanding.

This might explain why they are saying they cannot answer most questions, i.e. because they do not hold the information.

So your questions might get better and more complete answers if addressed in a normal  way to the Department or to The Secretary of State, Alan Johnson.

They do, however, answer your questions 6 and 8 and I think their answers are inadequate and incorrect in some parts and I offer some comments: ---

6 - "The Department enforced this message when former Health Minister John Hutton announced a ban on the use of national and premium rate telephone numbers (‘087’ ‘09’) by the NHS in February 2005."    Some doctors are still using 0870 numbers in contravention of this ban.   They are issuing 0870 as their access number from abroad (example -- http://www.brooksidegrouppractice.co.uk/    ---  "To contact the surgery from overseas please use:    0044 870 112 7587"  ---  and as their "emergency" number.    

What is the Minister doing to continue to enforce this ban?  

The answer refers to the letter from Lord Warner but fails to quote the most important sentence "I would also like you to consider what actions you need to take locally to ensure that patients telephoning practices do not pay more than they would if they called a local geographical telephone number."   This all hinges on what you understand the word ENSURE to mean.   My dictionary states it is "to make certain or to guarantee".    I therefore see Lord Warners letter as a clear directive and PCTs are ignoring this directive.    The Department also seems to be ignoring the fact that this is a directive.

What is the Minister going to do to follow up this directive and ensure that patients do not pay more than for a normal geographic call??

8 - The Department may not hold this info internally but it is available on the NHS Choices website : ---  http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/homepage.aspx   where all PCTs and surgery numbers are held.

They may be splitting hairs by saying the Dept does not hold this info whereas the NHS clearly does!!    The DoH and the NHS are not the same organisations: the NHS is governed by and answerable to the DoH.     For them to then say that "The only information that is available is anecdotal and cannot be substantiated, as exemplified by The Times article ....."       This is clearly ridiculous and incorrect.    Are they incompetent, ignorant or deliberately trying to misinform the Public by this sort of answer?    This answer certainly warrants a determined response and to then be brought to the attention of the Minister, and to be brought to the attention of the Press.    Depending on the next reply it may then be necessary to raise the issue with the Commissioner of Information.



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« Last Edit: Oct 17th, 2007 at 11:05am by loddon »  
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