You & Yours, the BBC Radio 4 programme, has discovered that 531 GP practices (around 6% of the total) in England are still using 084 phone lines in spite of the Department of Health directive three years ago telling GP surgeries to scrap these. The lines cost the same as a local phone call if the call is made from a land line but can cost 44 pence a minute from a mobile number.

The programme used a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many GP surgeries are using 084 lines and concluded that the use of 084 phone numbers could be related to GP surgeries being locked into telephony contracts. The BBC reported that it was told by one practice in East London that it would cost £60,000 to terminate their contract.

NHS England said that it was working to encourage GP practices to make telephone systems more accessible. “Some of the major providers of 084 numbers have now introduced alternative numbers that provide patients with telephone access for the price of a local geographical number, but with the enhanced functionality of 084 numbers.”

Camilla Wonnacott, Solicitor/Case Manager in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons, says: “It is of paramount importance that all patients - particularly those who are vulnerable - can access their GP surgery quickly and cost-effectively at all times. Cost should not be a factor that deters patients from making what could be an important call.”