Premium-rate phone numbers are to be banned across the NHS. Charges that force patients to pay more than the cost of a local call will be scrapped in England after a public consultation drew almost 3,000 responses.
The numbers – which start with an 084 – are used by some GP practices and hospitals, with people paying over the odds to contact their local health service. Patients will still dial 084 numbers but now they will pay only the cost of a local call.
The Health minister, Mike O'Brien, said: "For people on low incomes, and for those who need to contact their local doctor or hospital regularly, these costs can soon build up." The changes will be put into GP contracts within months.
There is no exact figure on the number of GP practices who use 084 numbers but data suggests it is in the region of 1,200. Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "Combining the benefits of 084 numbers with an assurance that they won't cost more than a local phone call is the best solution for patients and practices."