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Under current rules, NHS bodies and GPs’ practices are not prohibited from using non-geographic phone numbers, such as 0845 numbers, although the Department of Health has issued guidance about their use.

The DH states that they must be “satisfied that, having regard to the arrangement as a whole, persons will not pay more to make relevant calls to the NHS body [or practice] than they would to make equivalent calls to a geographical number”.

This rule came into force on 21 December 2010 for NHS bodies in England, and 1 April 2011 for GP’s surgeries in England and Wales.

The DH did not specifically prohibit the use of 084 numbers (such as the 0845 prefix), despite a DH consultation on this issue finding that 87% of all public respondents and 58% of NHS organisations responding were of the opinion that 084 numbers should be banned.

While the DH conceded that “charges for those calling from mobiles and those on Pay As You Go tariffs [to 084 numbers] can remain more expensive”, it said that banning the use of the 084 range could mean “another number range may then develop that operates in the same way”.

NHS bodies and GP’s surgeries had one year from the date the new rules came into force for them to review their arrangements to ensure they complied with the DH’s policy. If they did not, the DH stated that they “must consider introducing a system under which if a caller asked to be called back, the NHS body will do so at its expense”, although it was not made compulsory to introduce such a system.

In February 2012, the DH issued “further guidance” on the use of 084 numbers which included the following example: “if … a person calls a GP surgery with an 084 number from a mobile, landline, or payphone, they, taking the arrangements as a whole, should not pay more for that call than if they were calling a geographical number from that mobile, landline, or payphone”.

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