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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Use of revenue sharing (084) telephone numbers in the NHS is now ILLEGAL

From: David Hickson - campaigner for the NHS

I quote a Department of Health news release: NHS Constitution now Backed by Law - 19 January 2010 09:30

From today, all NHS organisations will be legally obliged to take account of the rights and pledges set out in the NHS Constitution.

The first of the rights in the Constitution states:

You have the right to receive NHS services free of charge, apart from certain limited exceptions sanctioned by Parliament.

Parliament (N.B. not the government) has not provided any sanction for use of revenue sharing telephone numbers in the provision of NHS services.

Apart from certain limited exceptions, caused by the imposition of regulations that affect only some BT customers, telephone companies recover the additional cost they incur when originating calls to revenue sharing telephone numbers (including all those beginning 084) by passing it on to callers. As users of these numbers benefit, at least through subsidy of their telephone service costs, this is nothing but a charge – patients are meeting the cost of providing NHS services as they access them. This is now said to be “Illegal”.

(There are other examples of similar practice, on which I am happy to comment.)

The relevant provisions of the Health Act 2009 cover both NHS Bodies - Section 2(2), and contracted providers of NHS services - Section 2(6).

What does this mean

·         The Directions to NHS bodies concerning the cost of telephone calls must be recognised and interpreted by every SHA, PCT, NHS Trust and NHS Foundation Trust, in the provision and commissioning of NHS services, as implementation of a right held by every NHS patient. The duty under the Health Act 2009 demands that the rights under the NHS Constitution must be upheld by the way in which these Directions are applied. The terms of the Directions, issued by the Department of Health, cannot dilute that principle, because they are not sanctioned by parliament.

·         The forthcoming changes to the GP contract cannot alter the legal duty of NHS contractors that now exists under the terms of the Health Act 2009. False assurances about costs to patients from interested parties who have no relevant legal competence or duty to the NHS and the rights of patients are simply meaningless. (see GPC Guidance: Use of 084 numbers in the NHS)

·         All other contracted providers of NHS services (e.g. dentists, pharmacists and ophthalmologists) also share the duty under the Health Act 2009, even though there has not yet been any indication of how the specific terms of their contracts will be amended in respect of use of telephone numbers.

·         Although exempted from the provisions of the Directions, the NHS Direct NHS Trust shares the duty under the Health Act 2009. As it would not be reasonable to replace the 0845 4647 number so close to its potential removal from service, the 0345 4647 alternative that is set up and ready must be immediately brought into use as a quietly advised alternative. The unusual and generally deprecated measure of having an alternative number must be seen as being essential to protect the rights of patients in these unusual circumstances. The 68 other 0845 numbers used by this body (e.g. the Choose and Book Appointments Line - 0845 608 8888) should never have been exempted from the provisions of the Directions.

·         If the government wishes for use of revenue sharing telephone numbers in the NHS to continue past today, it must promptly bring the relevant provisions before parliament, so that the charges (cost to patients, financial benefit to providers) may be properly sanctioned.


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