The BMA’s GP committee has questioned the accuracy of a statement made by health minister Anne Milton about the use of 084 telephone numbers by GP practices.
Milton told Parliament last week that since April this year “GPs have not been allowed to use a number that charges patients more than the cost of an equivalent geographical call.”
However the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee has written to local medical committees to question the statement, which is described as “not strictly accurate”.
The GPC added: “We wanted to update LMCs and practices in case they are contacted by PCTs pressuring practices to move away from using 084 numbers.”
The GPC said that despite a change in the GMS regulations that means practices must not use a number which costs patients more than a geographical call, those GP practices using an 084 number under a long term contract have no need to change.
Its advice adds: “In cases such as this we believe that it is entirely within the regulations for practices to continue with their current supplier for the duration of their current contract, before moving to a new contract that meets the requirements of the GMS regulations.”
The BMA has published new guidance on 084 numbers, which sets out the implications of the regulatory changes.
The BMA’s stance has been heavily criticised by 084 telephone number campaigner David Hickson.
He told EHI Primary Care: “The minister was absolutely straight down the line and bang on the button but the GPC appears to be resisting like fury.
“It is a disgrace for an organisation which is now committed to campaign against the dangers posed by government NHS reforms to itself be actively engaged in supporting this means of undermining the principles of the NHS.”
Hickson claimed practices have long term contracts for the lease of their equipment but are free to switch to 03 numbers at any time.
“It does mean the flow of money will stop but that will put them in the same position as the rest of their colleagues who fund their own telephone systems and I don’t think that is unfair.”
Use of 084 numbers has been a focus of controversy for several years. The DH announced in 2009 that it would ban their use in the NHS, following a consultation that attracted more than 3,000 responses.
However, the changes to the GMS regulations that were subsequently brought in led to advice from the GPC that GP practices could continue to use 084 numbers so long as their provider advised that the cost of the call was no more expensive than an equivalent local call.
This week Hickson said more practices had signed new contracts for 084 numbers since the regulation changes came into force and said that few practices had stopped using the numbers.
Hickson’s database lists just under 1,400 practices in the UK currently using an 084 telephone number.
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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