Arriva in U-turn over 0845 calls
Patients and campaigners are celebrating a U-turn as Arriva announced it is to ditch an expensive telephone line for its patient transport service.
The company has promised to replace its 0845 patient transport line with a cheaper or free number by the end of the month.
Patients were furious when the company brought in the number as it took over running the service from East Midlands Ambulance Service in July.
The Leicester Mercury Patients' Panel also campaigned to get the number changed.
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Alison Hassell, associate director for acute contracts for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland primary care trusts (PCTs), said: "We have listened to the concerns from patients and residents about the costs of calls and raised these concerns with Arriva.
"We hope the number will be up and running by the end of September.
Brian Drury, commercial director of Arriva Transport Solutions, said: "The 0845 number used to call our booking centres is not a premium rate number and for many people is charged as a local number or is offered free of charge as part of their phone package.
"However, we are aware that people calling from some phones, particularly mobile phones, may be paying more for their calls.
"We are working with commissioners to introduce a new 03 number that will reduce the costs of calls for everyone using the booking line, or offer all calls free of charge through a free phone number.
"We aim to have a new telephone number in place by the end of the month."
Jane Wingfield, from Thurnby Lodge, has welcomed the rethink.
She was one of the first to complain when it took her 24 attempts to get through on the 0845 booking line in July.
She said: "You seemed to get into a continuous loop, pressing the option numbers you thought were relevant and then it ended up you being cut off.
"On one occasion, I tried continuously from 8.30am until 4.45pm to get through and all on the more expensive line."
Mrs Wingfield, 53, added: "I am delighted that Arriva has now decided to change the number.
"The PCTs should have realised from the start that there could have been problems."
Health campaigner and member of the Leicester Mercury Patients' Panel, Zuffar Haq, is also pleased at the change of heart.
He took up the issue with the PCTs after patients raised their concerns through the Leicester Mercury.
Mr Haq said: "The change is great news.
"I am glad the PCT has listened and taken action to rectify the matter.
"I was astounded that this was allowed to happen in the first place, particularly after the campaign over the past five years or more to try and get GP surgeries to stop using the more expensive 0845 numbers."