In a most extraordinary development, Network Europe Group (the provider of the "Surgery Line" GP telephone system part-funded by patients, who pay premium rates to call 0844 numbers) has publically declared its opposition to the principle that NHS services are funded by taxation, rather than by patients as they access services.
Quoted in this article - Company defends charges for calling GP practices, in the Leamington Spa Courier,
NEG opposes the action that its GP customers need to take to comply with their NHS contracts, by saying ...
“the cost would be borne by the practice and ultimately the taxpayer”
The reason given is the very reason why practices MUST make the necessary change - switching to a 03 number so as to provide the technical benefits required by Surgery Line, but at no greater cost than that of a geographic call for the caller. It is quite odd to see the basis of funding for NHS services being given as a reason why NHS GPs should not adhere to this principle.
The cost of providing NHS services is properly carried by the practice, ultimately funded by the taxpayer, not the patient as they access the service. This has been the whole basis of my involvement in this issue - I am delighted to see "the other side" now being open about its position of opposition to the principles of the NHS. (NEG continues to misrepresent the position of the Department of Health and misinterpret the requirements actually imposed on GPs. By declaring its clear intention to work against the fundamental principles of the NHS, we can see all of its other statements in a clear context.)
The Surgery Line telephone system is admittedly too expensive for GPs to pay for in the normal way. The number used is however nothing to do with NEG, it is a matter of the arrangement between the practice and the network telephone service provider - normally TALK TALK in the case of Surgery Line users.
Talk Talk allows migration from 084 to 03 numbers at any point during the term of a contract. This is exactly what all of the 1000 or more GPs who are currently in breach of their contract (see below), but want, or are committed, to use non-geographic numbers must do immediately. Other NHS GPs pay for their telephone systems, and other surgery expenses, out of the money given to them from our taxes. That is how the NHS works!
As we are now “pausing and reflecting” on the NHS reforms, perhaps we need to get our thinking clear on the meaning of "free at the point of need". A commercial company, like NEG, finds it difficult to understand and easy to oppose. It can even use an undisguised attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS as a “defence”. As we look for more commercial involvement in the NHS - do we understand this principle and do we want to keep it?
|||I cover the detail of the requirements under the GPs contract with the NHS in this blog entry.|
|||My league table of the areas of England with GPs in breach, and lists of those surgeries.|
|||The equivalent list for Wales, where the situation is identical.|
|||The list covering NHS Coventry and NHS Warwickshire - "the Arden Cluster" (as referred to in the Courier article).|
|||I have previously commented on the views of NEG, although not expressed with the clarity seen in the quote covered by this item.|