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Sunday, 30 August 2009

NHS GPs using 0844 numbers can change to 0344

Talk Talk confirms that NHS GPs using 0844 numbers can change to 0344 to comply with the forthcoming ban

We are promised a ministerial announcement on the outcome of a consultation about a proposed ban on use of revenue sharing 084 telephone numbers in the NHS within the next month.

Opal Telecom, the business services part of the Talk Talk Group, is the provider of the vast majority of the expensive revenue sharing 0844 telephone numbers improperly used by many NHS GPs.

Some have mischievously suggested that these GPs with 0844 numbers must be excluded from the forthcoming ban, BUT ... This is founded on the false understanding that their long term contracts with Talk Talk deny them the opportunity to simply move to a different type of telephone number in order to comply.


Opal Telecom (Talk Talk) has recently published a booklet advising customers about how they can change their telephone number, referenced from this page.

Revenue sharing on 0870 numbers was banned for everyone by Ofcom with effect from 1 August 2009; that is what prompted this publication. As some Talk Talk customers on 084 numbers face a similar ban in the near future, this same information is directly relevant to their situation.

  • Move to another number range” is advised as the way forward for those who do not wish to face the consequences of new regulations. The document lays out the options.
  • There is extensive reference to the 03 range, including confirmation that “Ofcom has reserved 034x numbers for customers with matching 084x numbers”. Changing only the second digit of the telephone number (0844 xxxxxxx to 0344 xxxxxxx) would ease many of the difficulties inevitably associated with a number change. Other ways of avoiding revenue sharing are also advised.
  • Talk Talk Group corporate values are said to include “Flexibility and understanding” and being “here for the long term”.
This shows that GPs will be able to readily comply with a ban, without being required to abandon existing systems or suffer contract cancellation penalties.

The Talk Talk Group states that it is ready to offer the necessary flexibility. Its understanding of the fact that the loss of revenue share income may create financial difficulties for its customers, and its desire to continue to serve the NHS for the long term, will doubtless ensure that it makes the most generous possible new arrangements for current and future NHS users of its services.

This may be further encouraged by a desire to avoid any embarrassment at having been part of what many see as a scam on the NHS. The false suggestion that its 0844 numbers guarantee callers a low rate, when that is clearly untrue for its own residential customers not to mention those with mobiles, will be remembered by the Department of Health officials who repeated it in a statement in 2005.

I am very concerned that as there has been no public discussion of this obvious solution for NHS GPs, it may not have been recognised. Major contributors to the Department of Health consultation, notably NEG Ltd – the provider of the “Surgery Line” system that is funded out of the revenue share on these numbers – and also the BMA, have made no reference to this option in their public statements.

My attempts to obtain reassurance that the Department of Health is properly aware of this option have received no response. I do not wish to pre-empt the forthcoming announcement, however I do not wish to hear it made without one of the primary elements having been dealt with. As stated above, Ministers have apparently been misled on vital issues relating to this matter previously.

Further to my previous briefings, this newly published document states that the number change option is indeed available. This information needs to be reported and circulated now to correct earlier misleading reports of GPs being tied in to contracts that prohibit a change of number. I have good reason to believe that some GPs have not been made aware that this option is available to them. It would be foolish to have to bring this matter up on the back of an announcement which falsely assumed that some GPs had to be granted immunity from a ban.


  1. MY GP surgery has just issued a notice changing to an 0844 number as from 18th Dec 2009!!

    Dave Badminton

  2. It is alleged?/rumoured? that NEG do not offer 0344 numbers and block GPs from changing to them....


    Anyone care to comment on that?

    1. Daisy Surgery Line (the successors of NEG) claims on it website - http://www.surgeryline.com:

      “While many customers elect to use the 0844 number, both 03 and local geographic (01/02) numbers are also available.”

      I have invited any practice to offer evidence to show that Daisy deviates from the standard policy followed by the rest of the telecoms industry by not permitting migration from a 084 number to the equivalent 034 number within the terms of an arrangement.

      Such evidence is essential to sustain a claim that such migration is not the "reasonable step" referred to in the terms of the GP contract. The interests of a telecoms service provider are in no way affected by a migration from 084 to 034, so there is no valid commercial reason to block such a request. The consequence of such a move is that the practice would thereafter have to meet the full cost of the system they are using, without the benefit of subsidy at the expense of callers. That is exactly how NHS providers are required to operate.

      There could be embarrassment caused when customers see the full unsubsidised cost of the system to which they have committed. It is for Daisy to say if this is perhaps the reason why it is not encouraging its customers to comply with the terms of their NHS contracts.

      Alternatively, Daisy may wish to repeat arguments made previously by NEG. Some have argued that patients are prepared to pay providers for access to healthcare services, and so the NHS, which rejects this as a point of absolute principle in its constitution, should be abolished. (Car parking and prescription charges come close, but do not actually breach the stated principle.)


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