Practices should stop using 084 numbers altogether, NHS England has said. Those with ongoing contracts with telephone systems providers should ask to switch to a cheaper geographical number.
A letter from NHS England to its 27 area teams says that practices should forfeit the subsidy they receive from 084 calls, thought to be around 4p to 5p per minute, that helps pay for the telephone equipment they use.
One LMC said average-sized GP practices with around 6,000 patients receive around 4,250 calls a month, lasting on average one minute. This could mean practices lose out on £2,550 a year.
NHS England has ordered its area teams to take action against practices using 084 numbers, which can be expensive from mobile phones.
Around 8% of GP practices in England - including the Birmingham practice of the CQC’s chief inspector of primary care Professor Steve Field - will receive letters warning they are in breach of contract.
Providing a geographical number alongside an 084 number is not good enough, the letter said.
It reads: ‘The telecoms industry in general, and leading providers of surgery telephone systems including Daisy Group, providers of the Surgery Line system, permit migration from 084 to geographic rate numbers at any time within the term of existing system and network telephone service arrangements, without penalty.
'The additional ongoing cost incurred on migration from a 084 to geographic rate number represents the loss of the subsidy that has previously been provided, at the expense of patients and other callers.
'It is NHS England’s view that this represents one "reasonable" step that a practice could take.’
Practices will not be expected to withdraw from contracts with the systems providers that set up their 084 numbers. GPs have previously warned that cancelling contracts for 084 phone numbers could cost practices up to £60,000.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said that many government departments still use premium rate call lines.
He said: ‘If it was easy to solve this issue they should have done so themselves before bullying practices in this way. It is unfair to penalise practices for doing what they were encouraged to do by PCTs and the DH.’