Health chiefs respond to outcry over 0845 calls
Health bosses may rethink the use of a controversial 0845 number for patients needing to book hospital transport.
Patients and health campaigners were furious that private company Arriva brought in the number when it took over the running of NHS patient transport service in Leicestershire on July 1.
A spokesman for the county's primary care trusts has said the issue will now be looked at.
Margaret Cooper, from Frisby on the Wreake, books transport for a 91-year-old friend who has to regularly travel to Leicester Royal Infirmary for blood transfusions.
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Mrs Cooper said: "I was furious to find out I have to ring this 0845 number. It is a disgrace that people are expected to ring it.
"A lot of people who need to use the patient transport service are already very vulnerable and should not have to ring this number which costs more for most of us.
"Added to that, patients ringing to book the transport are being kept on the line quite a time while they are asked questions to make sure they are eligible for the transport. This adds to the cost."
Zuffar Haq, of the Leicester Mercury Patients' Panel, welcomed the move to look at patients' concerns but said the primary care trusts (PCTs) NHS Leicester City and NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland must now insist Arriva change the number.
He said: "The issue of using 0844 and 0845 numbers has been around since 2007.
"It is cheaper for many people to ring India than it is to call their GP or to book patient transport.
"This issue should have been included in contract negotiations. It is a major failing to have overlooked this point.
"The use of this number really affects vulnerable and elderly people who cannot afford to dial numbers at extra cost."
Mr Haq, who has also campaigned to try to persuade GP surgeries to stop using the number, said: "Arriva must change this number as soon as possible. When East Midlands Ambulance Service ran the service there was a landline number in operation."
Michel Whitworth, from the PCTs, said the issue of using an 0845 number was not included in the terms of the contact signed by Arriva earlier this year – in a deal worth £31.3 million over five years.
He said: "In view of some patients' concerns the primary care trusts will now put it on the agenda for discussion as part of the performance monitoring of the contract."
BT charges about 4p a minute for an 0845 number during the day and about 1p a minute in the evenings and at weekends.
Free calls to the number are included in BT telephone packages.
However, calls can cost 20p to 30p from some mobile phones.