Hackney GP surgery faces £25,000 penalty for dropping expensive 0844 number

De Beauvoir Surgery

De Beauvoir Surgery - Credit: Archant

The manager of De Beauvoir – the last GP surgery in Hackney using a “lucrative” 0844 phone line – would like to get out of the contract, but is faced with a £25,000 penalty.

De Beauvoir Surgery

De Beauvoir Surgery - Credit: Archant

In 2005 De Beauvoir Surgery entered a seven-year contract with telecommunications provider Daisy, in return for an expensive hardware phone system which allows many patients to call in at the same time.

At the time the NHS primary care trust was urging all practices to do the same.

But while other surgeries have now come to the end of their contracts, De Beauvoir still has three years to go.

Because it moved from practice in Englefield Road to a larger eight-room premises in Hertford Road in 2011, the surgery was forced buy itself out of the old contract and enter into a new five-year contract upgrade.

While BT customers get a cheaper rate by using the 0844 number, it can cost up to 35pence per minute for mobile users meaning callers can run up high costs if having to wait on the line at busy periods.

While De Beauvoir practice follows NHS regulatory guidelines by providing an alternative local 020 number, Cllr Ben Hayhurst criticised the surgery for advertising the 0844 number.

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At a Health in Hackney scrutiny meeting he said: “At De Beauvoir it (the 0844 number) comes up on Google as the number one number, on their website it is the first number they give you, when you call them they don’t tell you about the cheaper number, there is no recorded voice message to let you know about it, why haven’t those practical steps been gone through to try and minimise the use of that number at the surgery?” he asked.

Fiona Erne, the deputy head for primary care for NHS England for North, Central and East London, told him they had asked the surgery not to mention the 0844 number on the NHS website.

“In terms of their own website we have less control over that, we continue to speak to the practice and advise them to take some of the actions you have advertised,” she said.

But surgery manager Maggie Brynjolfsson said they couldn’t sustain the cost of leaving the contract and had tried everything to meet NHS requirements.

“Of course we would rather be out of the contract, we get so much grief about it,” she said.

“We would rather exit it now, but it would mean buying a new telephone system and we are still paying off this one, the money you get back goes towards paying for your telephone system, that’s how it was sold to us.

“What people forget is that now we have to phone mobiles back now all the time our costs increase all the time, you can’t expect a surgery to keep paying back and paying back, so while people are happy to swap to mobiles it is an added expense to us.”

A spokesman for Daisy said the inflated charges are added on by the mobile providers and that the £25,000 penalty was not for exiting the contract but to pay for the equipment.

“They have the option to change the number free of charge to change to an 03 number, but if they have a revenue share that’s when they would pick up the cost of the telephone system,” she said.