Patients pay a premium to make appointment with GPs by phone
Patients are paying a premium in phone charges to book an appointment with their local doctor’s surgery.
As many as 10 medical practices serving Barking and Dagenham use 0844 numbers, which can charge patients up to 41p a minute from a mobile phone.
Although some of the surgeries offer either an alternative local number or a call-back service, patients are often unaware of these options and continue to pay more.
Darren Wilby, of Springpond Road, Dagenham, has been a patient at Goodmayes Medical Practice for around five years.
He said he was charged nearly �10 in call costs when using his mobile to book a single appointment with his doctor. “I was absolutely gutted,” said Darren, who is diabetic and regularly visits his GP. “I thought any phone call like that to the doctor’s should be free or local. I’m a taxpayer so why should I pay again?”
Barking MP, Margaret Hodge, said: “It’s outrageous that people booking an appointment to see their local GP are being forced to use numbers like the 0844 which charge much higher tariffs.”
The use of higher cost lines contravenes best practice guidelines laid out in the NHS primary medical services regulations, which came into force on April 1, 2010.
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They insist telephone contracts must not cause users to “pay more to make relevant calls to the practice than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number”.
Five practices in Barking and Dagenham use 0844 numbers with no alternative service offered, falling outside of NHS guidelines.
They include: Becontree Medical Centre, The Surgery (Dr Chibber and Gupta), Shifa Medical Practice (Orchard Health Centre), Ripple Road Practice (Dr Ansari) and The Surgery (Dr Arif and Afser).
However, Abbey Medical Centre, Barking Medical Group Practice, Highgrove Surgery and Gables Surgery all provided patients with either a call-back service or an alternative local rate number, the NHS trust said.
A spokesman for NHS North East London and the City, said: “There are a small number of practices in Barking and Dagenham that are still locked into contracts for these numbers.
“We are currently in discussion with the remaining practices to ensure they also follow the guidelines and are compliant with their NHS contract so patients are not being charged more than they should be to call their GP.”