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Friday, 6 January 2012

GPs using expensive telephone numbers - the "escape route" is revealed by NEG

Many NHS GPs use expensive 084x telephone numbers as a means of subsidising the cost of their telephone system at the expense of patients. (See my database of cases and a map.) Since April 2011, those in England and Wales have been doing so in breach of their NHS contracts.

Many claim that use of a 084 number is essential to support use of a telephone system called "Surgery Line", provided by NEG, part of The Daisy Group. I am now delighted to be able to report that NEG now confirms on its website - Different Number Ranges - that this is untrue.

It is particularly significant that NEG confirms that Surgery Line may be used with 034 numbers.

Calls to all 03 numbers are charged at no more than the equivalent cost of a call to a geographic number, from all types of phone and including the terms of packages.

034 numbers are however special. They are only available to existing users of 084 numbers for the purpose of migration to the equivalent number, e.g. 0844 477 1799 to 0344 477 1799.

This means that:

all existing users of "Surgery Line" can take advantage of NEG's offer for them to migrate to 034 numbers,
to comply with their NHS contracts, whilst retaining all the benefits of the Surgery Line system.

It has been claimed that NEG imposes contract termination penalties on its customers if they cease use of their 084 number. As it now clearly offers use of numbers from a "migration only" range, it would be absurd for it to penalise those who wish to take advantage of this offer.

It must be noted that those who migrate to 034 will be incurring the full cost of the "Surgery Line" system, as they lose the benefit of subsidy at the expense of patients, which funds the system when a 084 number is used. It is however perfectly normal for NHS GPs to meet the costs of running their surgeries using only the NHS funding provided for the purpose. It would be absurd for them to pretend that meeting the cost of their chosen telephone system is "unreasonable".

I am delighted that Daisy Group, the owner of NEG, has finally made this very positive move.

I hope that this news will be swiftly communicated to:

•    all "Surgery Line" users

•    their patients, and

•    the local NHS bodies who enforce GPs compliance with their NHS contracts.

This option of migration has always been available, but it is now directly offered to Surgery Line users.

I also hope that the BMA, which has shown great interest in this topic, will now advise its members that this option of migration is now explicitly made available, rather than urging them to claim that the cost which would be incurred is "unreasonable".

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