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Doctors' phone line use reviewed - DH consultation (Read 193,304 times)
Dave
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Doctors' phone line use reviewed - DH consultation
Dec 16th, 2008 at 6:20am
 
The consultation document can be downloaded from Department of Health here:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Consultations/Liveconsultations/DH_091879

The deadline for responses is 31 March 2009.



Source: BBC News

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7783963.stm

Doctors' phone line use reviewed
By Jane Dreaper
BBC News health correspondent

<<
A ban on the use, by GP surgeries and other parts of the NHS, of phone numbers which begin with 084 is being considered say ministers.

They have launched an England-wide consultation to ask with people whether they want to keep the numbers.

Doctors say the new systems enable them to offer patients a better service.

But campaigners argue using the more expensive numbers is against the founding principles of the NHS, which should be "free at the point of need."

Increasing numbers of GP surgeries, hospitals and primary care trusts now have 084 numbers for patients use, such as when booking appointments.

Callers to the numbers are put in a queue, rather than encountering a constantly engaged tone.

Any revenue that is raised has to go towards the cost of the phone systems.

However complaints over the use of the numbers - which are usually more expensive than local calls - have lead to a government rethink.

Over the next three months people in England will be able to give their views on whether the practice should be allowed to continue.


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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #1 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 7:57am
 
This report has been posted on the BBC News website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7783963.stm

Doctors' phone line use reviewed 
By Jane Dreaper
BBC News health correspondent 


 
A ban on the use, by GP surgeries and other parts of the NHS, of phone numbers which begin with 084 is being considered say ministers.

They have launched an England-wide consultation to ask with people whether they want to keep the numbers.

Doctors say the new systems enable them to offer patients a better service.

But campaigners argue using the more expensive numbers is against the founding principles of the NHS, which should be "free at the point of need."

Increasing numbers of GP surgeries, hospitals and primary care trusts now have 084 numbers for patients use, such as when booking appointments.



Dr Richard Vautrey says his patients get a better service

Callers to the numbers are put in a queue, rather than encountering a constantly engaged tone.

Any revenue that is raised has to go towards the cost of the phone systems.

However complaints over the use of the numbers - which are usually more expensive than local calls - have lead to a government rethink.

The additional expense depends on the phone company, and what their call plan is, but if the caller is using a mobile it can reach 40p per minute.

Over the next three months people in England will be able to give their views on whether the practice should be allowed to continue.

'Dramatic improvement'

The NEG (Network Group Europe) company, which supplies 084 numbers to the NHS, says 10 million patients across the UK are registered with a doctor's practice that uses the system.

One such surgery is the Meanwood Practice in Leeds, where Dr Richard Vautrey is based.

Dr Vautry, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, said: "Before we put in the system, patients were concerned about the difficulty they had in getting through on the phone.

"Surveys showed it was an area of weakness for us.

"It's never going to be perfect - but the 084 number has given us a dramatic improvement and certainly made a big difference.

"Any idea that GPs make money from these numbers is a myth.

"The cost to our practice has in fact increased since we put in the new system.

"Before it was £7,000 a year and now it's £10,000."

Opposition

But phone campaigner David Hickson said the use of the numbers was "completely unacceptable."

He said: "The NHS is supposed to be free at the point of need.

"The difference in each call may be only a few pence for some people, but the costs can really mount up for others - especially for people who are using mobiles because they don't have a landline.

"I find it bizarre that the government is doing a consultation on this now.

"It's more than three years since the Department of Health banned GPs from using 0870 and other higher cost numbers. 084 numbers should have been stopped then."

One solution could be to use 03 numbers across the NHS. These offer the extra functions of automated 084 systems, but without patients having to pay extra.

However some GP surgeries are locked into phone contracts lasting as long as seven years.

Government view

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "A few years ago we banned the previous systems that were proving expensive.

"But people got round it by using 084 numbers. We now need to find a sustainable solution.

"We'd have to look carefully at whether existing contracts could be interrupted."

Mr Bradshaw confirmed that the consultation would also seek the public's view about the phone line service NHS Direct using an 0845 number.

Dean Raiment, the managing director of NEG, said: "We also share the government's determination that patients all over the country should receive the best possible service.

"We look forward very much to continuing to work with the Department of Health as part of the consultation process, to determine the most appropriate solution."




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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #2 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 8:03am
 
A classic example of delay, procrastination and inaction by this "do nothing" Government!

There is already masses of evidence that patients do not like these rip-off numbers and MPs regard them as a rip-off and, contrary to the fundamental principle of the NHS that it should be "free at the point of need".

28500 people signed a petition against these numbers last year and over 100 MPs have signed Early Day Motions condemning them.  

What we want is action NOW!!!   Stop timewasting!!
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #3 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 9:20am
 
Does anyone know how we contribute to the review?
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #4 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 9:28am
 
There was a piece on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7785000/7785011.stm
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #5 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 9:47am
 
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #6 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 9:52am
 
Such a shame that the consultation uses the terms "local rate" and the incorrect area code "0207"....
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #7 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 10:13am
 
It also seems to link the availability of extra services to the type of number one calls. which is of course incorrect.  Extra features can be installed on any telephone number.   Page 7 of the consultation "“Local Rate numbers” Is the quality of Service Better? NO”.   Roll Eyes

On my own domestic landline I could install extra features  too if I so wished.  Divert on busy, holding calls, Call queuing, “Press 1 for Me, Press 2 for the Wife, Press 3 to leave a message etc.”  Of course, I haven’t enabled such extra features, because tI find them ANNOYING.

If a phone line is busy, or none is available to take your call, I prefer an engaged tone.   With an engaged tone you know instantly that the phone line is busy, and you do not get charged AT ALL for the call.  With a menu system you are paying to hear usually a long-winded message that no one is available to take your call. I know which I prefer!
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #8 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 10:34am
 
I note we can reply by email. Do we know if we have to scan the forms and attach our replies or can we simply send a text email.
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #9 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 10:56am
 
I've sent a reply in plain text, with Q1, Q2 and Q3 as appropriate, and the first bit of each heading for the relevant other sections requiring a response.
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #10 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 11:17am
 
I suggest that patients contact local newspapers, TV and radio news. Even if your GP uses a normal geographical (01/02) number, the media might be interested if other surgeries in their area use revenue sharing 084 numbers because it provides a story that not all GPs need to use these numbers and crucially not all take funding from patients on a 'pay as you use' basis.
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #11 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 12:41pm
 
repton3 wrote on Dec 16th, 2008 at 9:47am:


Replies are invited by email as well as post. Here's a copy of the questions to be answered plus a bit of explanation from the background section.

You can respond by emailing your responses to the questions to:
084consultation@dh.gsi.gov.uk

Questions for callers to the NHS

Q1
Do you agree with the principle that people should not be charged more than the cost of a local rate call to access NHS services by telephone?

Q2
As a patient or carer calling the NHS, would you prefer to call a telephone number that has extra functions? (See page 5)

(Page 5 of the consultation document includes the following explanation:
What are the extra functions provided by 084 numbers?
084 numbers provide several extra functions, including allowing a caller to:
  • be held in a queue, so ending the problem of getting an engaged tone;
  • access a push-button choice of options that can be used to route calls, for example to appointments, repeat prescriptions or a practice nurse;
  • be redirected to other locations or other services such as out-of-hours services; or
  • access automated booking and appointment systems.

Is there another way to provide the extra functions?
Yes, 03 numbers were introduced by Ofcom in 2007 as an alternative to non-geographical numbers such as 084 numbers. 03 numbers offer the same extra functions as 084 numbers but are charged at the same rate as a call to a local number. However, a charge is levied on the person or organisation receiving the call. )


If your answer to Q2 is Yes:
• Which functions do you value most when calling a telephone number such as 084, which has enhanced functions?
• Why do you value these functions?
• Who do you think should pay the additional cost of providing this type of telephone system in the NHS?

If your answer to Q2 is No:
• What are your main reasons for not liking these functions?

Q3
The Government is considering banning the use of 084 numbers in the NHS where the cost to the patient is greater than calling a local geographical number. Do you think they should be banned?
Please give your reasons.

Any other comments?
Please use the space below for any additional comments that you would like to include.




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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #12 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 2:37pm
 
There are now 162 published comments on this in response to the story on the BBC News website with 111 or so awaiting moderation (including mine).  The comments basically all oppose misuse of 0844 numbers by doctors and its clear there is much a larger band of people vigorously opposed to 0844 use than just the small number of activists who regularly post on this website.

See http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?sortBy=1&forumID=5814&start=0&tstart...

I am sure the government plan to rig the consultation or just simply ignore the consultation responses as Ofcom and Phonepayplus (nee ICSTIS) have consistently done on this matter. Shocked Angry Smiley Smiley Smiley

I wonder if there is anyone as brave as the chairman of that UK Statistics body in the medical profession who is prepared to break ranks over this.
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« Last Edit: Dec 16th, 2008 at 2:37pm by NGMsGhost »  

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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #13 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 5:46pm
 
It was also discussed on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 today, in the first half hour.  They had a doctor on Sarah Jarvis who pops up on TV and radio often,  her surgery had a 0844 number but changed back to a local number after complaints from patients about cost.  The Doctors asked if it was possible to have all the fixtures of the 0844 scheme on a geographical number and it was  Shocked
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Re: Doctors' phone line use reviewed
Reply #14 - Dec 16th, 2008 at 7:03pm
 
Reflecting on a long day, I feel that the campaign has moved forward.

There does seem to be a general acceptance that the defence of 084 numbers as uniquely offering better features has been largely dismissed. It all comes down to funding. I cannot see how a government suggestion that NHS patients should perhaps pay to subsidise provision of NHS services as they use them could possibly prevail.

I cannot see any justification for a three month delay, however that is now what we must accept, no matter how much we may hate it (unless we see a serious prospect of the government changing its mind and abandoning what it has just announced). There may be valid reasons that are not apparent, e.g. the government may fear an unproductive battle with the BMA and wants strong public support on its side. The timing could be to tie in with the NHS constitution legislation that may be used as the basis for enforcing a ban. (This is only speculation - I remain opposed to the need for a consultation on the basis of what I know at present.) Whilst the language used suggests otherwise and could cause great embarrassment if it were true, the possibility that the delay is an indication of there being no intention to do anything cannot be wholly dismissed.


I intend to reflect further on how this time with the issue out in the public domain can perhaps be used as an opportunity to achieve more. With public attention on the declared unacceptability of 084 numbers for the NHS, there should be a great opportunity to make progress with other government departments and public sector bodies. It could also help with any pressure being exerted on the private sector as well.


There remains the question about whether use of 03 numbers is necessary, which is starting to become a topic of contention in this forum.

I am prepared to accept that some solutions are designed to work on geographic numbers, whereas others are suited to non-geographic. So long as the NGN being considered begins with 03, I am content for this to be a matter for individual choice between alternative offerings; it is not an issue that I would wish to take a stand on.

If it is cheaper for those who are tied into a long term contract for a NGN to switch from 0844 to 0344 and retain a system that is found acceptable to patients (other than the present cost of calling), then I would not oppose such a decision. If a practice decides that a new 03xx based solution is better than any alternative improved system on a geo number that is offered, then again I would not oppose. It is for those who offer geo number based solutions to get out there and start marketing them. With the chance to exploit the subsidy obtained through revenue sharing removed, they have a more level battleground on which to compete.

I want to encourage all forum members to exploit all opportunities available to them to get media coverage for the issues that we share. Furthermore, I do not believe that this is "our" campaign, it belongs to all NHS patients and all those who have to call revenue sharing numbers. Whilst we may be able to help people to understand the issues, it is the campaigning efforts of those who cannot afford to call their doctor because they do not have sufficient credit on their mobile which must seen as the most eloquent contributions to media coverage.
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