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Friday, 20 January 2012

Parliament to debate 'Use of 084 telephone numbers in the NHS'

Bob Ainsworth MP for Coventry North East will be leading a debate on this topic in Westminster Hall, at 12:30 next Tuesday, 24 January. A government minister will reply.

This will cover the fact that nearly 1,300 NHS GP surgeries in England continue to use these expensive numbers, despite revisions to their contracts which should have brought this to an end by 1 April 2011.

I hope that Mr Ainsworth, and other MPs who may contribute, will stress the need for the government to make the situation clear to all, and in particular to ensure that officers of the Primary Care Trusts fulfil their duties properly by enforcing the terms of the contracts on their GPs.

The key points are as follows:

As telephone tariffs stand, there is no 084 number that can be used in the NHS.
The NHS is universal in its scope and available to all on equal terms. There will always be some who will pay more to call 084 numbers. (See current tariff examples.)
GPs tied into long term telephone system arrangements must still comply.
If necessary, they can change to the 034 equivalent of their 084 number.
This would mean that they will henceforward incur the full cost of their chosen telephone system, without the benefit of subsidy at the expense of patients.
The revised contracts demand that they "take reasonable steps" to ensure that patients do not pay more - this step must be considered to be "reasonable".
Migration to 03 is an option offered by all telephone service providers, including that responsible for most of these cases. (See this note.)
The terms of the GP contracts are clear, but are made confusing by those who oppose their intention and purpose.
Local NHS officers, who have to enforce the terms of the contracts, have not been able to overcome resistance from those who argue that patients should pay some of the costs incurred by GPs and other NHS providers. This is the privatisation of the NHS, which many fear that the government is prepared to tolerate.
If the government truly believes in the principles of the NHS, now and for the future, then it must intervene to ensure that these principles are fully respected - if necessary, by strong enforcement action against those who continue to breach them.

GPs may be quick to point out that some NHS hospitals and other NHS bodies also use these numbers, in breach of equivalent Directions issued to them. I argue that these bodies are not only in breach, but are making enforcement of similar requirements unnecessarily difficult. (See the list in my blogging - "NHS Bodies in Breach ...".)

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