Responding to a Westminster Hall debate today, Health Minister Simon Burns pleaded blindness as his defence against a failure to ensure enforcement of a requirement for GPs to give up the subsidy they receive, at the expense of patients, by using expensive 084 telephone numbers.
I have published a database of NHS GPs with 084 telephone numbers. For England, this is based entirely upon, and in each case referencing, NHS Choices.
This currently lists 1,292 surgeries (not practices, some of which operate from more than one surgery).
In my published and circulated briefing for the debate (including a link to the list) I referred to this figure as being "nearly 1300".
Mr Burns said (watch him here) "... We can find no evidence of this ... what they don't say is which they are ... please send us the evidence"
HERE IS THE LIST (verification with NHS Choices will enable any recent changes of number to be identified and cases removed.)
HERE is a summary of the call costs incurred under the terms of commonly used tariffs for the "call type" listed against each number. I provide links to the actual tariffs as published by the telephone companies.
The regulations placed an obligation on GPs to "ensure that, having regard to the arrangement as a whole, persons will not pay more to make relevant calls than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number”. I agree with Mr Burns; practices should be able to provide “robust evidence" to support any claim that none of their patients call under the terms of the tariffs that cause them to pay more.
Assurances of compliance submitted by GPs have been based on the false assumption that callers from mobile telephones, payphones, Virgin Media Lines and BT’s most widely used tariff need not be considered. These assurances have been provided by "a friend of a friend", their telephone system company, as suggested by the BMA. Perhaps Mr Burns thinks that commercial providers to the NHS do not need to present "robust" evidence, that responsibility only applies to patients – if so, then I disagree.
If each individual patient has to fight their own legal consumer battle with their local "medical services retailer", then we no longer have a NATIONAL health service. Many believe that this is exactly what this government wants and suggest that this is why it is blind to evidence presented nationally.
I will comment at greater length when the full Hansard is available.