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Friday, 30 April 2010

The end of rip-off GP telephone numbers - contract revisions now issued

From: David Hickson - campaigner for the NHS

NHS Primary Care Trusts were yesterday notified of revisions to the GMS contract, which PCTs are required to enforce on the GPs in their local area.

(Although the relevant instruction has not been published, due to the election, the issuing of the notification has been confirmed by the Department of Health.)

The revisions include the addition of clause 29B, which requires that

GPs using telephone numbers that cost more to call than a geographical number must change their arrangements.

This means that the many GPs who use 0844 numbers provided by Talk Talk will have to arrange migration to an alternative number, probably the equivalent 0344 number. This is probably a better option for them than incurring the charges that would be levied if the contract for the telephone system that relies on this service were to be terminated early.

Although the BMA and others seek to pretend otherwise, 0844 numbers are more expensive to call for the vast majority of callers - see my briefing.

I have posed the question - Will the BMA be able to beat the government by enabling GPs to continue using expensive telephone numbers? - I summarise:

The BMA General Practitioner's Committee supports the absurd suggestion that a misrepresentation of Talk Talk's own call charges (not to mention those of most other telephone service providers) by Network Europe Group, one of Talk Talk's agents, should be taken as an "assurance" by its members.

In the same document, the BMA advises its members of its policy position - that NHS patients should be charged according to "the quality of service the patients are accessing". Having failed to persuade the Department of Health to seek the necessary parliamentary sanction for such charges, the BMA now switches to suggesting that the charges do not exist.

The variation notices are now being issued:

·        Patients who are currently paying excess telephone call costs to subsidise their NHS GP must be made aware that this must now stop.

·        PCTs must be pressed to show their worth to the NHS by enforcing the terms of the contract.

·        Talk Talk and other telephone network access providers must be encouraged to make the necessary process of transition as easy as possible for their GP and other NHS customers.

·        NHS Bodies who are using these expensive numbers, must now confirm to GPs that they intend to comply with the similar Directions issued to them on 21 December 2009.

·        The BMA must confirm whether or not its members should subsidise their costs at the expense of patients by stealth.

(I cannot comment on the relevance of this action to my attempt to raise the issue last week - GENERAL ELECTION ISSUE - Will the NHS remain free at the point of need?

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