Redbridge GP surgeries still using ‘extortionate’ premium rate numbers despite government ban

Several Redbridge GP surgeries are still using “extortionate” premium rate phone numbers despite a government ban.

Calls to The Evergreen Surgery, in High Street, Wanstead, cost at least 4p a minute but many callers pay considerably more from mobiles or providers other than BT.

The regional number listed on many websites is out of service and directs callers to re-dial the premium rate 0844 line.

One woman said her 92-year-old mother was paying £5 for regular calls and became distressed about her rocketing phone bill.

Sue Taylor, of Loughton, said: “Elderly people call doctors all the time so how much money are they taking from pensioners like my mum who are on a basic rate pension?

“I think it’s extortion – vulnerable people may not be able to afford it and it’s going to stop them calling.”

In December 2009 the government ordered GPs to stop using premium rate numbers and NHS England is now auditing how “reliant” surgeries are on revenue from calls.

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A spokesman said: “GP practices should not renew or enter into any new contracts for telephone services that charge patients more than the cost of a geographical call.”

When the Recorder phoned The Evergreen Surgery, we were on hold for five minutes before reaching a receptionist.

The surgery declined to comment.

Chadwell Heath Surgery, in Chadwell Heath Lane, Chadwell Heath, Goodmayes Medical Practice, in Green Lane, Goodmayes, and the Chigwell Medical Centre, in Fencepiece Road, Chigwell, also use 0844 numbers but list an “alternative” geographical line.

The Doctor’s House surgery in Cameron Road, Seven Kings, lists only an 0208 number on its own website but the premium rate number that shows in search engine results is still in operation.

The Willows Medical Practice, in Manford Way, Hainault, uses a premium rate line that does not carry a warning of charges.

David Hickson works with the Fair Telecoms Campaign is working to stop surgeries charging patients for 0844 calls.

He said: “It is the principle of the NHS to not allow GPs to fund their surgeries through charges on patients.

“They can transfer the same service on to geographical numbers so there is no excuse not to.”