The delay in completing implementation of the 111 service for urgent access to NHS services (see DH news release) means that the withdrawal of the non-urgent health advice and information service provided by NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 will be delayed.
Although BT, which provides this number and benefits from a revenue share payment of around 2p per minute when it is called from non-BT services, includes 0845 calls in its call plans, most telephone call service providers (who have to pay this fee to BT) do not. Callers therefore pay up to 41p per minute to access the NHS Direct service.
Plans to migrate NHS Direct to 0345 46 47 were shelved when the 111 service was announced. Calls to offer the 0345 46 47 number to run in parallel (with minimal publicity so as to avoid confusion) have not been heeded. All calls to all 03 numbers are charged on the same terms as calls to geographic numbers (commonly free of charge).
Exactly the same situation applies to the many other 0845 numbers used by NHS and other public bodies - notably HMRC and the DWP agencies - all of which should have begun the move to 03 numbers many years ago. Adopting the 034 equivalent of a 084 number, a facility assured by Ofcom, provides a convenient and cost-effective way of making the transition, or even allowing for extended parallel operation.
The BMA, which has welcomed this delay, will no doubt be grateful for the assistance provided for non-urgent cases by NHS Direct during its industrial action. It continues to sanction an extension to the rip-off being practiced by its GP members using 0844 numbers (which are never included in Call Plans), by denying the fact that they too can migrate to 034 numbers for the remaining period of their use of systems which require non-geographic numbers from a particular provider.
Whilst the BMA continues to support what many see as simple greed by some of its members, getting their chosen telephone system paid for by their patients, its chances of securing support from the public for its industrial action in defence of their financial interests are significantly diminished.
(There is much to say about 111 itself!)