>Regular readers of this blog will know that I have thrown an occasional strop because my GP surgery has an 0844 number. This means that calling to get an appointment or a prescription costs me an absolute fortune. There was one month when the costs purely of contacting the surgery were over £15. Now, I can afford to take that hit, but there are many who can’t. Most landlines don’t include 084 numbers in their free calls, nor do mobile companies who charge a fortune for them. You also have to bear in mind that many of those on the lowest incomes don’t have landlines these days and so are reliant on mobiles.
I raised this some time ago with my local MSP Angela Constance, and she’s been really good at continuing to work on this and keep me in touch with what she’s been doing on the issue.
Yesterday she raised it with Nicola Sturgeon at Question Time in Holyrood. Here’s the exchange:
General Practitioner Practices
9. Angela Constance (Livingston) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive how many GP practices use 084 premium-rate numbers and whether it has any plans to actively discourage the use of such numbers by GP practices. (S3O-10892)
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Nicola Sturgeon): As at 3 June this year, there were 44 GP practices using 084 telephone numbers, which represents just over 4 per cent of the total number of practices in Scotland.
We intend to discuss the issue with the Scottish general practitioners committee, which is supportive of the idea that all patients should pay local telephone rates and is considering offering guidance to those practices that use 084 telephone numbers to encourage them to review their current telephone contracts. The Scottish Government would support that.
Angela Constance: I am sure that the cabinet secretary will recall the representations that I have been making on behalf of many of my constituents, who are having to bear the increased costs associated with the use of such telephone numbers by GP practices. Does she agree that it is wholly unacceptable for patients to bear those increases in their phone bills, which, for the many who need to make regular and repeated calls to their doctor’s surgery, have been significant?
Nicola Sturgeon: I can understand that view and the frustration on the part of patients. I am sure that Angela Constance will appreciate that only a small number of GP practices in Scotland use 084 telephone numbers, but the practice can lead to increased costs for the patients who use such services. That is why it is important that we work with the general practitioners committee to encourage GP practices that use such numbers to offer local telephone rates instead, if possible. I will be more than happy to keep Angela Constance updated on the progress of those discussions.
I’m grateful to Angela for continuing to pursue this. I know it’s only a small number of practices across Scotland, but that will still affect thousands of people who incur extra costs. I guess what I’d be looking for is that if the GP Committee’s polite requests were ignored, then legislation should be brought in to completely ban the use of such numbers for all public services.
If your surgery uses a premium rate number like this, please let me know, and if you want to see things change, ask your MSP to take action.