CAMPAIGNERS in the area have welcomed news that the controversial use of premium rate 0844 numbers by surgeries is to be debated by parliament.

On January 24, MPs will debate the use of the numbers, which can cost up to 40p per minute to call from mobile phone networks, and are used by Willows Medical Practice in Chigwell, Chigwell Medical Centre, and Ongar Health Centre.

In April, The Department for Health issued new guidelines compelling local Primary Care Trusts to investigate the use of the numbers by surgeries in their area.

In October, West Essex PCT declared itself satisfied that the surgeries in the area using 0844 number had ‘evaluated their current [phone line] provision’ and that they could not compel them to revert to a number with the normal area code.

Earlier in the year Kate Hammond, 27, from Copperfield in Chigwell, was unable to book an appointment at the Willows Medical Practice when she fell ill with a serious stomach infection because all of her mobile phone credit was eaten up waiting in a queue for her call to be answered.

She said: “I am surprised this has had to be raised in parliament, they should have changed the numbers last year when it was clear what some people were having to pay.

“The NHS is supposed to be there for the people. If my daughter falls ill I want to be able to phone up the surgery and make appointment right away, not have to take her there myself.

“I hope that the MPs move to ban the use of these numbers by GPs.”

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