On 21 December 2009, the Department of Health imposed "Directions to NHS Bodies concerning the cost of telephone calls".
The Directions covered the costs incurred by callers contacting the NHS, which are set by their respective telephone company. All telephone companies have to pay on a "revenue share" when connecting calls to all 084, 087 and 09 numbers. They pass this cost on to callers.
The Directions required that:
"having regard to the arrangement as a whole,
persons will not pay more to make relevant calls to the NHS body
than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographic number".
The terms are defined to apply to all NHS patients, with no exclusion from NHS entitlements for those who do not have a landline telephone or are on the social tariff "BT Basic". It is well known and understood that landline providers charge more for calls to 084 numbers than to geographic numbers, for the reason given above.
Because NHS bodies do not themselves provide telephone service to those who call them, the only way that they can comply is by ensuring that the number they choose is never subject to additional charges from telephone service providers.
The Implications in practice
There are some perverse situations where the penalty charge for calling a geographic number outside the terms of a Call Plan exceeds the premium paid to fund the revenue share to the benefit of the receiving party on 084 calls. Exceptional marketing practices, enabled by special regulations which apply only to BT, create further perverse effects with 0845 numbers. These distort the natural situation for some BT customers, but not those on its social tariff "BT Basic".
There is however no doubt whatsoever that all calls from Virgin Media landlines, mobile phones and public payphones to 084 numbers are more expensive than those to geographic numbers. The situation with other providers may be mixed.
The statement "having regard to the arrangement as a whole" can only refer to the fact that NHS services are provided on a UNIVERSAL basis. Entitlement to access NHS services under the terms of the NHS Constitution (i.e. without charge from the service provider) and as specified in these Directions cannot be sacrificed as a result of not calling under certain specific and unusual terms from a particular type of telephone service provider.
Unless the assertions made above can be shown to be false,
THE DIRECTIONS AMOUNT TO A PROHIBITION OF THE USE OF ALL 084 NUMBERS.
The above comments relate to the situation as it is today, has been since 19 December 2009 and is likely to continue (with some of the perverse exceptions likely to be removed) in future. Potential regulatory changes anticipated by the comment "Organisations remain free to use non-geographical number ranges such as 084, providing that patients are not charged more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to do so" HAVE NOT OCCURRED, indeed Ofcom has taken a totally different direction from that which some anticipated. As things have remained, and are likely to continue, there are no 084 ranges or numbers that meet the stated conditions.
For those reluctant to verify the truth of the matter for themselves, I can offer a quotation from a formal Ofcom statement on this matter:
"Only 03 is charged precisely the same as 01 and 02 numbers by all telephone companies.
"084 numbers are frequently charged at a higher rate than a 01, 02 or 03 number. Where they are not charged at a rate above a 01/02/03 number they are, however, frequently not included in a calling plan, thus callers will pay an additional charge for the call."
If anyone wishes to challenge these assertions, I would be most grateful if they would contact me, so that I may consider revising these comments, and attempt to persuade Ofcom to change its position also.
The Directions imposed a deadline of 21 December 2010, by which those already using numbers which cause a greater expense to be incurred must, notwithstanding other possibilities, "vary the terms of the contract or other arrangement". As all telephone companies allow migration from a 084 number to the equivalent 034 number at any point during a contract, there can be no case where the NHS body was unable to comply with this requirement. (Calls to all 03 numbers are charged on the same basis as calls to geographic numbers.)
If anyone wishes to challenge my assertion, with evidence of a case where a request to migrate from 084 to 034 was refused, I would be most grateful if they would contact me, so that I may consider revising these comments.
Many of those listed from research undertaken some years ago have now moved into compliance with Directions. (My publication - NHS bodies using revenue sharing telephone numbers - is now OUT OF DATE.)
There are however many other NHS bodies which are both
• defying these explicit Directions, and
• continuing to breach their duty under the Health Act 2009 to "have regard to the NHS Constitution".
By benefitting from the subsidy provided by use of revenue sharing telephone numbers, at the expense of patients, they are effectively imposing a charge for accessing NHS services which is not "sanctioned by parliament".
I list those seen to be in breach below, along with the name and position of the senior officer responsible, to whom I have written.
Cases where an alternative geographic number is advised alongside the 084 number are annotated "*". Unless it could be shown that sufficient advice is provided to ensure that nobody would ever call the 084 number in error, then the breach remains uncorrected by advice of an alternative number. (I have excluded cases where two numbers are published simply to cover a period of transition.)
|Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust||0845 130 4204 *||Averil Dongworth - Chief Executive|
|Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust||0845 111 4000 *||Mark Easton - Chief Executive|
|Basildon & Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||0845 155 3111 *||Alan Whittle - Chief Executive|
|Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust||0844 8110101 *||Diane Whittingham - Chief Executive|
|Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||08454 222 222||Frank Harsent - Chief Executive|
|Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust||0845 127 0 127||Pauline Philip - Chief Executive|
|Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust||0845 155 1000||Glenn Douglas - Chief Executive|
|Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust||0844 811 8110||Julia Squire - Chief Executive|
|Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust||0844 811 8111||Jim Mackey - Chief Executive|
|Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust||0845 155 8155 *||Helen O'Shea - Acting Chief Executive|
|University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||0845 155 5000 *||Robert Naylor - Chief Executive|
|East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust|
(Patient Service Centre)
|0845 084 0500||Stuart Bain - Chief Executive|
|Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust|
(National Artificial Eye Service)
|0845 60 50 561||Aidan Kehoe - Chief Executive|
|North East London NHS Foundation Trust||0844 600 1200 *||John Brouder - Chief Executive|
|Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust||0844 811 5522||Gillian Fairfield - Chief Executive|
|Marie Stopes International |
(many centres - providing NHS services)
|0845 300 3740||Di Hendry - Head of Marketing|
|Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull|
(providing NHS services)
|0845 850 1451||Will Knights - Hospital Director|
|Bradford and Airedale Teaching Primary Care Trust||0845 111 5000 *||Matt Neligan - Acting Chief Executive|
|Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust||08454 221500||Jan Stubbings - Chief Executive|
|North Staffordshire Primary Care Trust||0845 602 6772||Graham Urwin - Chief Executive|
|NHS Direct NHS Trust; Health Advice and Information Line||0845 4647||Nick Chapman - Chief Executive|
Note on NHS Direct
The NHS Direct Health Advice and Information service is to be withdrawn in the near future, once the mandate for the Urgent-Only NHS access 111 service has been enforced in all localities. It is therefore reasonable not to incur the expense and confusion of a complete number change for the Advice and Information service, which now has less than two years of operation left. The alternative number - 0345 4647 - (charged at the same rate as a call to a geographic number for all callers) has however been configured ready for use in parallel.
There is no justification for the decision to continue to totally withhold availability of this alternative number for the remaining life of the service. The total exemption from the terms of the Directions, which applies to all telephone services provided by the NHS Direct NHS Trust, was totally unnecessary. It being ruthlessly exploited by the NHS Direct NHS Trust and the many NHS bodies which use it as an agency to deliver their services, covering many other numbers not listed above, in disregard of the clear duty under the Health Act 2009.