Many patients forced to dial costly 0845 numbers

40p a minute to call a GP
40p a minute to call a GP

Millions of patients are still forced to dial expensive 0844 and 0845 numbers costing up to 40p a minute to phone their GP.

Surgeries were told to stop using expensive premium rate numbers five years ago yet at least 350 continue to do so, according to the NHS Choices website.

The guidance issued in 2009 outlined that no telephone line should be brought in if it costs more than a normal geographical number.

As a result, around two million patients have to pay up to 40p a minute to simply call their GP to book an appointment or check test results.

According to the Daily Mail, surgeries receive some of the income generated by the calls, although doctors insist they do not make a profit and the revenue is spent on installing and operating the systems.

Although calls to 084 numbers are the same price as normal calls on a landline, campaigners point out that 15% of the population no longer have a landline.

The Fair Telecoms Campaign group warned that sick people may be dissuaded from seeking medical help.

Group campaigner David Hickson said the fear of running up a huge phone bill could also result in increased pressure on A&E departments.

"It is intolerable that no enforcement action appears to be being taken," he said.

"These surgeries are in breach of clearly-defined terms of their contracts, which was made clear in November in a letter. There is no justification for the continued use of these numbers, especially when government departments are taking action.

"It may mean that people don't seek medical advice when they should, or they could put unnecessary pressure on the 111 service or A&E – slowing down responses to more urgent cases.

"People who do need access to GPs are going to be running up totally unacceptable costs. That is not the way we should be paying for doctors' telephone systems."

Campaigners argue that patients should not be charged to call a Health Service, which is supposed to be free.

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