GPs dial in to the great 0870 scam
by SEAN POULTER, Daily Mail
The Health Service has been accused of trying to cash in on the sick by introducing rip-off 0870 numbers for local doctors' surgeries.
Calls to the numbers are charged at just under 8p a minute, more than double the amount most people pay for phone calls.
Banks, utility companies and government departments are generating massive windfalls from what are effectively premium-rate lines because most large organisations which use 0870 numbers take a slice of the call cost.
Daily Mail readers reacted with fury to the revelations about the 0870 scam. It now appears the NHS has jumped on the gravy train at the expense of patients trying to contact their GP.
An estimated 300 doctors' surgeries across the country have introduced 0870 numbers in recent months in partnership with a company called Network Europe Group.
NEG supplies telephone systems to surgeries in return for a slice of the call charge imposed on patients.
The net effect is that doctors and the NHS get a 'free' or cheap phone system while NEG makes money from call charges. However, all of this is effectively paid for by patients.
Labour MP Dr Howard Stoate, the only practising GP in the Commons, said: "This is a very worrying trend. We are effectively looking at charging for the NHS by the back door.
"Patients who need an appointment or advice don't have any alternative but to pay this charge.
Campaign to bypass 0870 and 0845 numbers
"Doctors will say this is a good way of them improving their phone systems but I don't believe this should be subsidised by patient call charges."
Most Britons currently pay a maximum of 3p a minute for national or local calls under discount packages. However, calls to 0870, and 0845, numbers are excluded from these packages.
The Lib Dem MP for Cornwall North, Paul Tyler, said government departments and agencies were generating huge amounts by using 0870 numbers. It appears the Home Office has 19 such lines while the DVLA makes £1.1million a year from its 0870 prefixes.
Mr Tyler said: "It is a rip-off. Those who ask for information they are entitled to as citizens are facing very high charges. These are effectively premium rate phone lines."
Mail readers from across the country yesterday complained about the 0870 rip-off. One said: "It is disgraceful that I should have to pay 8p per minute for a questioning session from the NHS if I become ill."
A second said: "At least with a commercial firm you can chose to deal with them or not. This is not possible for doctors' surgeries." Another said: "Lets get this disgusting rip-off halted."
NEG said those dialling the system it uses in surgeries are generally on the line for less time than in the past. So while the call charge per minute was higher, they did not pay much more.
A campaign has begun among consumers to bypass 0870 and 0845 numbers.
The website saynoto0870.com offers alternative, cheaper, numbers for major organisations.