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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

One NHS hospital finally gives up its expensive 084 telephone numbers - what about the rest?

From: David Hickson – campaigner for the NHS, and for equity in access to public services

A media release from the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, announces the end of its use of expensive 0844 telephone numbers starting from 4 December.

Local MP, and Minister of State for Health, Simon Burns, will doubtless be delighted at this news.

NHS bodies must cease using expensive numbers by 21 December 2010

Mr Burns may however be less keen to acknowledge that his Department has failed to get the many other NHS bodies still using expensive 084 telephone numbers to comply with a Direction for them to cease the practice by 21 December 2010.

NHS Direct is a special case, as its 0845 4647 number is due to be shut down within the next five years. The cost and confusion of a complete number change would not therefore be appropriate at this point. The 0345 4647 alternative, which is set up and ready, should therefore be brought into use alongside to operate in parallel. (This approach of using equivalent 034 numbers in parallel is appropriate for many other situations – all 03 numbers are charged on the same basis as calls to ordinary geographic numbers from every type of telephone service and contract.)

NHS GPs must cease using expensive numbers by 31 March 2011

Many GPs use expensive 084 telephone numbers. As they will shortly be taking responsibility for applying the principles of the NHS locally, they should be able to set an example to the hospitals, whose services they will be commissioning.

They have been subjected to a contract revision, requiring them to cease use of expensive telephone numbers by 31 March 2011. This is however not happening.

The BMA advises its members not to give up their 084 numbers. It has a policy that patients should pay for access to NHS services, according to the quality of the service provided.

Primary Care Trusts currently enforce the principles of the NHS

Until GPs take over their new responsibilities, it is for Primary Care Trusts to ensure that GPs fulfil the terms of their contract with the NHS and that commissioned NHS providers comply with the Directions from the Department of Health. To my knowledge, not one PCT is demanding that NHS GPs, Hospitals, Dentists, Pharmacists or Ophthalmologists give up their 084 telephone numbers.

The appropriate Minister, whether this be Simon Burns, Andrew Lansley or Earl Howe, must remind PCTs of their duty to the patients they serve. Centrally imposed micro-management through PCTs may have no place in the NHS of the future, however its principles must be retained and adherence to those principles enforced.

My message to Simon Burns, Andrew Lansley and the rest of the government

If Health Service providers are to continue to receive subsidy through use of revenue sharing 084 telephone numbers, thereby inevitably at the expense of patients, then that is not the NHS whose enduring principles we recently celebrated on its 60th birthday. The coming deadlines give the government a chance to show us where it stands.

·       Does "Liberating the NHS" mean freeing providers from a duty to adhere to the principles of the NHS, by allowing them to fund services at the expense of patients as they access them? A failure to ensure compliance with the current deadlines for abandonment of expensive telephone numbers would suggest that it does.

·       Mid Essex Hospitals has chosen to re-affirm the principle of free at the point of need. Should not all other NHS providers be seen to be compelled to do the same!


1.    A list of NHS bodies in England using 084 telephone numbers is published on my "NHS Patient" web site at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/davidhickson/NHS.Patient/NHS%20Hospitals.htm. Please contact me for qualification of a few cases where changes are in hand.

2.    Lists of GPs in the UK using 0844 telephone numbers are published on my "NHS Patient" web site at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/davidhickson/NHS.Patient/0844%20GPs.htm. There are some more cases where 0844 numbers have been adopted whilst the matter has been under review.

3.    I will be happy to provide further briefing and comment to anyone concerned to maintain the NHS or reporting on its possible demise. I will be happy to engage in debate with anyone who does not see the NHS as being a universal service, where all are treated equally, or who believes that the time for such a service has passed.

4.    I am also engaged on exactly the same issue with expensive 084 telephone numbers, as it applies to HMRC, DWP agencies and other public services.

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