Organisations will continue to be able to use 084 numbers. But they will not be able to use contact numbers which charge patients a premium above the cost of a call to a national-rate number.
A DoH spokeswoman said that practices using premium-rate numbers would need to consider changing contracts or providing other facilities for patients. The government's position on service provision was, she said, 'very clear'.
'Where there is evidence that patients are being charged more than the equivalent of a geographic call, then GPs and other NHS bodies should take all reasonable steps to rectify this,' she said.
'Whilst terminating their contract is an option open to them, the practice could also consider varying or renegotiating the terms of their contract, providing a call-back facility for patients, or other options,' she added.
The DoH's deputy director Nick Hall said the new rules do not prohibit an organisation from using specific number ranges for the purpose of contacting NHS services. ‘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.'
David Hickson, who has been campaigning against the use of 084 numbers by the NHS, said the new rules failed to protect the principles of the NHS. The rules continued to permit revenue sharing, even if additional payments were hidden in package subscriptions, he said.