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Health helpline costs pounds 16 a call, Labour says

A HEALTH helpline is costing the taxpayer nearly pounds 16 a call, Labour said today.

The service, set up two years ago under the Patient's Charter, forms a nation-wide network of information centres with a freephone number.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said analysis of Commons replies showed that with department of health set-up costs included, the bill reaches pounds 3,730,066.

Calculations based on the number of calls taken and the operating costs reveal that running costs over the past two years amount to an average of pounds 9.80 for each call. Start-up, regional, department of health and publicity costs make the figure rise to pounds 15.90.

During the first two years of operation only 234,656 people called the service, representing an average of 489 calls a day.

Mr Blunkett said: 'The Patient's Charter has failed to curb the waste which exists in every corner of Mrs Bottomley's NHS. In fact it is contributing directly to the misuse of resources.'

Dr Brian Mawhinney, the health minister, said 136,000 people used the line last year and more were expected to do so this year. The average cost of a call would fall with the passage of time.