PATIENTS in a North-East town will no longer be forced to use an expensive 084 number to contact their GP.
Carmel Medical Practice is the last GP surgery in Darlington to switch from a higher rate number to a local rate, meaning all of the town’s practices can now be reached using an 01325 number.
The move follows widespread criticism of GP surgeries across the country using expensive 084 numbers, which can cost up to 41p a minute.
Many surgeries required patients to call the high rate lines to book an appointment, receive advice or get test results.
It was feared the situation could cause people to avoid contacting their GP, meaning vulnerable people were potentially left at risk.
In response to concerns, Government guidelines were issued requiring GP practices to review their existing arrangements by April 2011 (CORRECT).
It is now thought the majority of surgeries across the region have complied with the guidelines.
Darlington’s MP Jenny Chapman, who has campaigned for a better appointments system at GP surgeries, welcomed the shift.
She said: “It’s not before time. I’m very pleased and it shows that GPs are being mindful of the concerns of their patients.
“It’s great that all the surgeries in Darlington are now on local rate numbers as it is very wrong that patients have to pay more to get to see their doctor.
“Hopefully the old number didn’t put anyone off making an appointment but it was certainly wrong that it should cost more.”
NHS Darlington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has worked to encourage its member GP practices to switch to local rate numbers in a bid to improve access for patients.
Its chief officer, Martin Phillips, said: “This is good news for Darlington patients and our practices, who have worked hard to respond to local need in providing appropriate services for their patients.
“The CCG recognises the difficulties that some patients encounter when accessing alternative numbers, especially those using their mobile telephones.
“This is a positive step and we are pleased that any patient contacting their practice can now do so via a 01325 number.”