Breach of Contract
NHS Choices shames over 1000 GPs who obtain subsidy for the costs of running their surgeries at the expense of NHS patients. From 1 April 2011 they stand in explicit breach of their NHS contract.
31 March 2011 was the deadline for compliance with a contractual requirement to cease using telephone numbers which provide subsidy at the expense of callers. The Department of Health chose to identify these cases by the fact that the numbers cost more to call than the cost of a call to a geographic number, rather than because they have the dialling prefix 084. (It all comes to the same in the end, although some like to entertain the hypothetical possibility that there could be 084 numbers that are not more expensive to call.)
This published table provides links, sorted by Primary Care Trust, to the details of over 1000 GPs shown as having failed to comply with contractual requirements that came into effect on Friday 1 April. In every case the GP is still offering a 084 telephone number on "NHS Choices" as the means for patients to contact the surgery.
I have urged every PCT to refer to this information, and take the necessary action to promptly enforce the terms of clause 29B of the GMS contract. Given that there was a twelve month period given during which compliance should have been achieved, it is disturbing that we have got to this point with so many breaches uncorrected.
As well as the links to NHS Choices the document also summarises and provides links to published telephone tariff information from a number of leading providers. By bringing this all together it is very easy for anyone to see what is going on.
The Government and “Free at the Point of Need”
The number of breaches that have remained past the deadline for compliance, demonstrates how the measures introduced by the previous government have not been implemented effectively. I wait to see what action the present government will take to convince us of its commitment to the principle of "free at the point of need".
Will it stand back to allow this present abuse and breach of contractual provisions to continue in an "un-reformed" NHS? If so, what may we expect when GPs are given more authority and further "liberated" from the need to follow centrally set rules?
If Cameron, Clegg and Lansley are doing roadshows, they must be asked if they believe that GPs should be "liberated" to continue taking Service Charges from NHS patients as they make contact by telephone. If not, then they must demand and support necessary enforcement action by PCTs.