TWO Inverurie men have hit out at what they describe as the unfair charges imposed on patients phoning the town’s health centre.
Andrew Strang and carer John Picken approached the Herald to complain about the charges, which, they argue, penalise the poor and those who have to phone a doctor from abroad, with Mr Strang claiming a ten-minute phone-call now costs him around £4.
Andy told the Herald: “What’s bugging me the most is how expensive the new number has made it to phone the health centre. It’s actually becoming difficult to cover the costs.”
John argued that, although BT landline calls to 0845 numbers are free, the new number would leave mobile phone users - who are often unable to afford a landline - vulnerable to extortionate charges.
He said: “The monthly minutes - sometimes called free minutes - included in price plans generally do not apply to 0845 numbers, which are charged separately. Payphones will cost much more.
“Moreover, it is very difficult to phone 0845 numbers from abroad: someone who urgently needs to contact their doctor from abroad will either be completely unable to do so, or be charged through the nose for the privilege.”
He added: “Everyone knows the current Health Centre number, it is easily remembered. The 0845 number will never have that level of user friendliness.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman defended the new number, and said: “0845 numbers are not on premium rate tariffs. Callers are charged at local rates, as are non-BT customers. Mobile rates may vary - please contact your service provider for details.
“The previous system was inadequate and could no longer cope with demand. The 0845 system allows calls to be queued, presented and answered in a fair and efficient manner. The new system gives the health centre access to ‘real time’ and historical statistics. This allows health centre managers to understand and address the peaks and troughs associated with incoming calls.
“The 0845 system also gives us complete, instant control of how our calls are handled and answered in an emergency or disaster recovery situation.
“All revenues that NHS Grampian generates by using the 0845 service are used to provide this service, at no cost to the NHS.
“NHS Grampian has not received any payment, from the service provider for using the 0845 service. Inverurie Medical Practice makes no income from the use of the 0845 service.”