Monday, 16 September 2013

Join the campaign against GP surgeries charging patients for phone calls

This appeared in today's Daily Post:
TWO GP surgeries have been slammed for using premium rate numbers for patients to make appointments.
Plaid Cymru said  two practices in Wrexham – Borras Park Surgery in Borras Road and the Gardden Road surgery in Rhosllannerchrugog, Wrexham – were among 29 Welsh surgeries using 0844 numbers that could leave patients with hefty bills.
 But practice chiefs at Gardden Road defended using the number and insisted it provided a better service for patients trying to contact the surgery.
Research by Plaid Cymru found some patients were being charged 5.1p per minute plus a 15p connection charge from a BT landline. This could increase to 44p a minute from a mobile phone.
  Plaid Cymru’s regional AM Llyr Gruffydd said: 
“A constituent registered with the Gardden Road surgery raised this matter with us after being kept waiting when he called to make an appointment.
“He was 17th in the queue and it became clear people would face a hefty bill if they had to wait so long to get through. As someone who had used the surgery all his life, he found that unacceptable and contacted my office.
 “We’ve carried out this research and believe charging premium rates to access doctors goes against the NHS regulations that make it clear surgeries should charge no more than the local rate.”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones said: 
“Such charges are in contrast to the policy of previous Welsh Governments in relation to charging. This has led to the phasing out of car parking charges in hospitals and, of course, the free prescription policy.
“Plaid Cymru believes that such charges go against the spirit of the NHS. Regulations state that patients should not pay more to make calls to a GP practice than other calls in the area.”
Ms Jones said she had written to the health minister to clarify the situation.
 A Gardden Road GP spokeswoman said: 
“The practice introduced the system to improve patient access and experience, as patients trying to book an appointment using the previous system often faced the engaged tone.
 “We believe that introducing the enhanced system has improved patient access, and enabled our staff to focus on what matters most, assisting patients.
 “The surgery has installed an alternative local rate number to provide further choice for our patients.”
 She added: “The Department of Health, Social Services and Children response dated 16th August 2012 states: ‘The NHS (Primary Medical Services) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) Regulations do not preclude a contractor from entering into a contract for telephone services using non geographical number ranges such as 084, if it is satisfied that having regard to the arrangements as a whole persons will not pay more to make equivalent calls to a geographical number. As such, if GPs are satisfied of their compliance, they can continue to use an 084 number.”
What you can do - sign this online petition to stop the two practices from charging patients to call their surgeries. Patients can sign anonymously if they want:

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