I was pleased today to see Alex Neil promoting that ringing NHS 24 is going to be free in a few months’ time, using the NHS non emergency number 111.
This makes an awful lot more sense than the Police chief who suggested charging 50p for 999 calls as a deterrent to people who use it when there’s not really an emergency.
Something the Health Secretary said, though, reminded me of something I’ve been banging on about for a long time – GP surgeries with 0844 numbers. Alex Neil said that a third of people with access only to a mobile phone were deterred from ringing NHS 24 because of the cost. This got me to thinking about the cost of dialling a surgery. Before these numbers were free on landlines, I once racked up £15 during a horrible month of quite serious illness in the household just calling the surgery. And my surgery can be a nightmare to get through to. You can be hanging on for 10 minutes and more after the call has been answered and then as soon as you get to the front of the queue you get cut off.
I contacted my MSP Angela Constance several years ago and she did a whole load of work on this, including raising it in Holyrood with then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. My practice is still using an 0844 number and Angela said on Twitter today she’d look into it again for me. In 2010 it was only a very small number of practices, 4%, that were doing this, but if we can get rid of them all, that would make a difference. Let’s face it, those on lower incomes are more likely to have to rely on mobiles to ring the doctor and they are likely to need to do so more often. It’s not fair for GP practices to expect these patients to use premium rate numbers – free at the point of use and all that.