PAYING more to call your doctor may soon be a thing of the past – more than a year after GPs were ordered to not let that situation happen.
The Old Coulsdon Medical Practice (OCMP) has switched from a premium 0845 to a local number, and the two practices in the South still using 0844 numbers are set to follow suit.
Their moves come 18 months after Government guidelines came into force saying calling surgeries should cost no more than calling a local number from a land line.
The 0844 and 0845 numbers tend to be more expensive, especially for patients using mobile phones or with call packages that do not include premium numbers.
Nigel Rea, vice-chairman of the Old Coulsdon Residents' Association, said: "[It was] irritating because a lot of us have free calls to 020 numbers and you had to pay while you were hanging on for them to answer.
"We were finding, for example, people were calling from work and they would find their office switchboard blocked outgoing calls to 0845 numbers, or if you called from a mobile phone then you are getting hit by double charges."
OCMP manager Richard Frier said the practice had ended its contract with the 0844 provider more than two years early due to patients paying more.
He added: "[We] have managed to keep many of the features that benefited both the practice and patients with regards to the management of their calls."
The Moorings Medical Practice in Kenley and Woodcote Group Practice, which has surgeries in Coulsdon and Purley, have said they will change to a local number very soon.
Dr Fiona Collins is a partner at The Moorings, which publishes only an 0844 number on its and NHS Choices' websites.
She said at the start of the month: "We had a meeting with our phone supplier two weeks ago and they are supplying us with a geographical number shortly.
"We will also have two new outgoing lines, to make it easier to call patients back."
Kes Howe is the IT manager at Woodcote Group Practice, which publishes an 0844 number on its website and an 0208 number on NHS Choices.
He said at the end of last month: "We are in negotiation with another telecommunication company to change our telephone system completely back to a geographical local number. The change will happen in the very near future."
A spokesman for Croydon Primary Care Trust said it "actively encourage[s]" GPs not to renew 0844 numbers when their telephone contracts expire.
She added: "We require them to put alternative and/or additional arrangements in place where they cannot terminate their contracts early."
Coulsdon resident Peter Appleford, however, said he appreciated the benefits of the 0844 system and its handling of a lot of calls.
He said: "If I need to see a GP I am not too worried about a phone-call being more expensive than another. Also, you got through to the person you need to speak to."