Calls to NHS Direct cost patients £1m

Patients have paid more than £1m in call charges to NHS Direct, research suggests.

Photograph: istockphoto/ Zsolt Nyulaszi
Photograph: istockphoto/ Zsolt Nyulaszi

But both the health service and BT deny having seen any of the money.

Most 084 numbers divide call revenue between phone providers and the body receiving the call.

David Hickson, who campaigns against such numbers, has calculated that NHS Direct should have received nearly £1.1m in revenue from calls to its 0845 number.

But NHS Direct says that, in line with government guidance, it does not receive this money ‘either directly or indirectly’.

A spokeswoman said it was paying ‘the market rate the BT for the usage of our 0845 service’.

BT said it could not discuss a commercially confidential contract. But sources close to the company deny it is making excessive profits from NHS Direct patients. Instead they suggested the contract was structured to take account of this revenue.

If true, this would mean NHS Direct was indirectly benefiting from these charges.

‘That million pounds is going somewhere,’ said Mr Hickson.

Meanwhile, the DoH delayed plans to move NHS Direct to a cheaper number – even as it pushes practices to abandon their own 084 numbers.

Last February health minister Ivan Lewis ‘gave a cast iron guarantee’ that the cost of calls to NHS Direct would be slashed. The service later reserved a cheaper 0345 number

But a DoH spokesman says the move is on hold, while the government considers creating a national 3-digit number for urgent care.

  • See this week’s GP dated 13 February for the full story
  • Do you think patients pay too much for NHS Direct calls?

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