Rip-off GP 41p-per-minute calls attacked

Official NHS guidance warns against using expensive 0844 numbers. But the best part of 1,000 GP practices across the UK still use them. Now the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has slammed the NHS, claiming the 41p-a minute charges - if you're on some mobile tariffs - are misleading callers.

Why aren't NHS websites warning against these pricey numbers? %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Lethargic response

In a press response, a Department of Health spokesperson said the issue was being looked at. "We understand NHS Choices are changing their website to make information on call charges clearer. NHS England are also actively researching the extent of use of 0844 numbers and will take action when this work is done."

Clearly they're in no rush. In the past, the British Medical Association and the Department of Health have gone as far as claiming 0844 numbers can be cheaper than normal numbers. Now, the Advertising Standards Authority has told NHS Choices that its website must be amended, with clear pricing information for all its 0844 numbers.

"We considered," says the Advertising Standards Agency, "that the costs of calling the 0844 numbers should have been made clear on the website. Because these costs were not clearly stated we concluded that the website was misleading."

Breach of contract?

Earlier this year NHS campaigner David Hickson told GP website Pulse that almost a thousand practices were still using 0844 numbers, and that practices using them were in direct breach of their contracts.

"0844 numbers," he said, "are only cheaper for a minority of patients. By contract GPs have to look at the arrangement as a whole for patients. So GPs basing it on a minority of patients who incur a penalty for using geographical numbers isn't acceptable."

If you're still confused about 'phone charges, Ofcom offers this guide, which separates out premium rate numbers from UK-wide geographic numbers and other UK number-related confusions.
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