Minister to cut NHS Direct charges to set example for GPs

A DoH minister has pledged to cut charges for calls to NHS Direct to set a good example for GP practices that have signed up to high-rate phone services.

The standard cost of a call to NHS Direct is between 3p and 5p per minute, but people calling from mobiles or non-BT landlines may be charged more.

Asked for an assurance that NHS Direct would not be allowed to continue to use 0845 or other higher-rate telephone charges when its phone contract is renewed, junior health minister Ivan Lewis told MPs: ‘I can give a cast-iron guarantee that that will not be allowed to continue.

‘That provides a very important example of the government leading by example in this area.'

A spokeswoman for NHS Direct recognised that some telephone providers may charge high rates on top of the basic cost of a call to the service.

‘We are in discussion with the DoH, which set up the 0845 number in 1997, and we are looking at other options,' she said.

She said that using a freephone 0800 number had been ruled out by the DoH in the past because research suggested it would attract too many hoax callers.

The spokeswoman said the phone line was likely to be changed in 2008.

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