A SERIOUSLY ill woman was unable to afford the call to make an appointment to see her doctor after the medical centre started charging premium rates for patients to ring them.

Kate Hammond, 27, of Copperfield in Chigwell, fell sick with a recurring stomach illness which left her unable to eat anything for four days.

When she tried to book an appointment to see her doctor at the Chigwell Medical Centre in Fencepiece Road she found that because the centre was using an 0844 premium rate phone line she was unable to afford the call on her pay-as-you-go mobile and does not have a landline telephone.

Making calls to an 0844 number from some mobile phones can be almost twice as expensive as calling local landlines.

It was not until the following day that she was able to see her doctor after her partner took the time off work and drove her to the surgery.

Miss Hammond said: “Not being able to speak to my doctor because of these new charges is just ridiculous.

“This is an NHS service so I do not see why we should pay so much to contact them.

“In the poster in the surgery it says that the change to the 0844 phone line benefits the patients. How can it benefit them when more people cannot even afford to call the surgery to make the appointment.

“They moan at people for calling ambulances when they shouldn’t but go and charge extra for people to call their doctor.

Eddie Bow, chairman of the Chigwell Residents Association, said: “The most vulnerable members of the community are most hit by this.

“I cannot see any logical reason why they should be doing it.”

Alice Vye, of NHS West Essex, said: "The PCT is investigating all aspects of the 084 usage in practices across West Essex so that necessary action is taken to ensure all contract obligations of the GP practices are fulfilled. This includes the use of 084 numbers.

"The PCT is writing to all practices to advise them of the current investigations and the compliance that is expected.

"Once we are in receipt of the information requested from practices we will take any necessary action.

"At this stage the PCT are not requesting that the practice reimburse patients for using the 084 telephone number."

Click here to follow the Epping Forest Guardian on Twitter