Querying the DoH announcement on Monday, Mr Hickson said: ‘It will fall foul of EU competition law if it tries to fix rates by legislation.
‘There is no point in asking, or trying to compel, individual hospitals and GPs to fix retail telephone call charges from each of over 200 providers, whilst protecting their source of subsidy. Their work is in providing NHS healthcare, funded exclusively by taxation.'
The DoH says the ban will enable a market to develop in which 084 numbers compete with 01 02 and 03 prefixes, with call charges capped at the local rate. The ban applies to England only at this stage, but talks are ongoing for the rest of the UK.
Health minister Mike O'Brien said: ‘We have been concerned that some people are paying more than the cost of a local call rate to contact the NHS. It is clear from the feedback we have received that patients support the banning of any number or tariff which is more expensive to call.
‘For people on low incomes, and for those who need to contact their local doctor or hospital regularly, these costs can soon build up. We want to reassure the public that when they contact their local GP or hospital, the cost of their call will be no more expensive than if they had dialled a normal landline number.'
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