'GPs should get 0800 numbers so patients can ring free for appointments' says former MP

Former Edinburgh MP John Barrett is calling for doctors to be given freephone numbers for patients to ring for appointments.

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He claims many people can end up paying excessive amounts for phone calls to GP surgeries because they have to phone at 8am to get an on-the-day appointment and hang on the line in a queue for their call to be taken.

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Mr Barrett, who was Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West from 2001 until 2010, said: "I had to phone the doctor a couple of times in the last few weeks and when I got my bill I thought 'This can't be right – £5 to phone the doctor'.

On-the-day appointments typically have to be booked by phone from 8am.

"We used to have an unlimited call plan and it didn't renew automatically so now BT charge about 21p a minute for landline calls."

He says for people like him being landed with an unexpectedly high phone bill is not a disaster, but for people who are unemployed or on minimum wages it is a lot of money.

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"There are a lot of people struggling to get by,” he said.

"Of course, a lot of people will not have this cost because they will have different pone deals, but a lot of people might be paying this and having no idea.

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John Barrett was Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, 2003-10

"It can be costing you a fiver without you even knowing. Phone bills are mostly online now so unless you go into your account and check all he details folk have no idea. Most people just pay their phone bill by direct debit and it is what it is.”

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He said action ought to be taken because people had no option when trying to see a doctor but to phone the surgery and stay on the line until they got through.

"People cannot walk in and ask for an appointment nowadays. You've got to phone at 8am and it will say you're 10th in the queue or whatever, and you wait and wait and wait, so it can easily take 20 minutes or half an hour. That’s what happened to me and unknown to me it was costing a fiver a pop.

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"And there’s no use hanging up and phoning back later because all the appointments will have gone. if you want an appointment you have to hang on.

“Doctors ought to have 0800 numbers or the equivalent for when you phone the surgery.

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"It's now a phone-based system and part of that ought to be free-phone number.”

Mr Barrett said the Scottish Government should be ready to act.

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"The Health Secretary should look at this as part of the change in provision of the heathcare system.

"If they don't do that, the risk is the poorest people in or society will think twice about phoning their GP when they need to."

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Access to healthcare is a priority, and we have already amended legislation to ban the use of premium phone numbers by GP practices.

“The Primary Care Health Inequalities working group is currently considering ways to further improve access to services.”

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