NHS England is reviewing the use of 0844 telephone numbers by GP practices.

A spokesperson said NHS England was actively researching the extent of use of 0844 numbers and “will act upon our findings as and when this work has been carried out”.

“NHS England supports guidance from the Department of Health that GP practices should not enter into any new contracts for telephone services that would mean patients pay more than the cost of a geographical call to their practice.”

The spokesperson added that GP practices were required to review existing arrangements by 1 April 2011 and this remained the case.

Use of 0844 numbers has been a focus of controversy for several years.

GP contract revisions which came into effect in England and Wales from 1 April 2010 required GPs to take steps to ensure that their callers no longer paid more than the cost of an equivalent call to a geographic number. The deadline was 1 April 2011.

However, Fair Telecoms campaigner David Hickson calculates that nearly 1000 practices in England and Wales continue to use 0844 numbers, which invariably cost more than equivalent calls to geographic numbers.

“All of this should have happened three years ago, however the threatened and then delivered abolition of the primary care trusts alongside the strengthened role for GPs in the NHS has not helped the task of ensuring compliance with the GP contracts,” Hickson said.

“As a national organisation, NHS England is able to get to grips with the spurious and complex arguments against compliance in a way that individual local bodies were unable to do.”

Meanwhile, the push to remove the use of 0844 numbers in GP surgeries appears to be gaining momentum.

Last month the CCA Care Partnership, which includes GP practices in Chapelford, Culcheth and Appleton, announced that it was not going ahead with implementation of a new 0844 system while call cost issues were resolved.

A spokesman for a key provider of 0844 numbers to the NHS, Daisy Surgery Line, was quoted in the WalesOnline last weekend as saying the company would no longer proactively market the 0844 product to NHS-related organisations.

“We will continue to work with our GP customers to develop alternative solutions, supporting them by providing them with the products of their choice,” the spokesman said.