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Thursday, 5 November 2009

Ban on use of expensive GP telephone numbers will not happen

Further to previous briefings (notably this epic, which contains all of the relevant links), I have now finally confirmed that the ban on use of expensive telephone numbers to call a NHS GP (also hospitals and other NHS services) will not come into effect at any time in the foreseeable future.

Under the terms of the "ban", use of 0844 and 0845 numbers is tolerated on the basis that all telephone companies will remove their premium charges from calling these numbers and will add them into the call-inclusive package used by any NHS patient.

I have now confirmed that the major landline providers, e.g. BT, Virgin Media and Talk Talk, have no such plans; the same applies to all of the mobile and payphone providers. Whilst they continue to have to pay over a share of their revenue to the "terminating" provider it is reasonable that they continue to pass this cost on to the caller.

This year? / Next year? / Sometime? / NEVER

The Department of Health has said that the "ban" will come into effect "early in the new year". It has not however yet issued the directions to NHS bodies referred to in the 14 September announcement. Formal negotiations on the revisions to the NHS/GP contract, which include a three month consultation period, have not yet begun.

It is therefore not too late to get the Department of Health to correct the appalling error it has made in allowing wholly unreasonable assumptions about forthcoming changes to telephone tariffs to be an essential feature of what it proposes. On recognition of the truth of the situation, its plans must be changed to effect a ban on use of all 084 numbers until such time as they cease to yield revenue share and consequently cause the imposition of premium rates. (Ofcom may be considering such a change to perhaps start for some 084 numbers in around 2-3 years time.)

The Prime Minister will have to comment shortly

The e-petition to the Prime Minister, calling for an effective ban, has just three more weeks to run. The many signatures added since 14 September demonstrate that there is no confidence in the announcement made that day. We await the response from the Prime Minister, over 47,000 emails, which are due to be sent out shortly after 28 November.


  1. I have been in private conversation with a number of telephone companies and am confident of the comments I make. As a private citizen, I have not been able to secure the issuing of a public statement.
  2. I would urge formal enquiries about the timing of the "ban" to be made of the Department of Health, to confirm suggestions in a letter to me and to a number of MPs. The telephone companies will then be ready to confirm what changes they will guarantee to have in place by that time.
  3. As explained previously, BT is in an odd position because some of its rates are regulated, whereas others are not. This confuses the situation and also leads to some perverse effects. I can explain this in detail if necessary. It is sufficient to say that the BT rates for those who do not benefit from the terms of an inclusive package are atypical of the general position and therefore misleading, even though they are commonly used as examples.
  4. I am totally confident that we will find the present proposals never to deliver the ban that many were quick to announce.

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