A DOCTORS surgery which has introduced a controversial premium rate number has been criticised.

The Evergreen Sugery in High Street, Wanstead now uses an 0844 number.

Anyone who calls the surgery now faces being charged 5p a minute from a landline and much more if calling from a mobile phone.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley recently said GPs should not be using 0844 numbers which generate revenue for the call receiver.

Geoff Horsnell, of the Wanstead Society said: "The NHS is in dire straits at the moment but that is perhaps going a little too far to charge people for making appointments.

"We are going back to the olden days where if you can't afford a doctor then you can't get one.

"Everything seems to be going the same way these days."

Patient at the surgery, Helen Zammett, 64, of Gloucestor Road, said: "A lot of elderly people will ring the surgery and it will cost them money without realising it.

"If you are trying to book an appointment the same day you want one, you could be on hold for up to 15 minutes because there is a rush hour between 8.30am and 9.30am.

"The whole thing just doesn't seem right."

The Guardian made three calls to the surgery over a period of a week and each time was on hold for over six minutes.

The practice manger, Louise Thomson, was approached for comment.

However, a sign in the window of the surgery said: "In order to enhance patient care and access, we have implemented a new telephone number for your convenience."

Wanstead Place Surgery, in Wanstead Place, stopped using an 0844 number two years ago.

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