The Department of Health has delayed making a decision on whether it should ban the use of 084 numbers in the NHS in England.

The DH launched a four month consultation on the use of 084 numbers in December and promised to publish its response to the consultation by the end of April.

However, last week health minister Ben Bradshaw published a message on the DH website saying the DH had received “a much higher volume of response than expected.”

The health minister added: “Whilst this is of course very positive news in itself – in terms of demonstrating the strength of public feeling around this issue – it is important to ensure that in reaching an outcome we fully take into account the breadth of responses received.”

He said the DH was analysing the repsonses as quickly as possible to identify the most appropriate course of action and that the outcome would be communicated “as early as possible.”

David Hickson, a campaigner against the use of 084 numbers, criticised the government’s failure to meet its own deadline.

He claimed the use of 084 numbers was accidentally omitted from a ban in 2005 and that a review was carried out in January 2008 after advice not to use 084 numbers was ignored by NHS bodies.

He added: “ No valid argument for the introduction of an exception to the principle of "free at the point of need" has been advanced. An exceptional level of response to the consultation surely presses the need for urgent action, not further delay."

As many as 1,500 GP practices in the UK are believed to use 084 numbers, which are also used by some hospitals and the helpline NHS Direct. Last week, the NHS Blood and Transplant service replaced its previous two 0845 numbers with one 03 number, charged at the same rate as geographic 01 and 02 numbers.

An e-petition on the prime minister’s website calling for a ban on use of 08 numbers in the health service, has received more than 18,000 signatures and become the ninth most popular petition on the website.