David Hickson's Media Releases

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Friday, 18 June 2010


From: David Hickson – campaigner for the NHS

I quote a Media Release from the Department of Health - http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=413941&NewsAreaID=2.

"Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said: ...

"We are also committed to improving patients' access to urgent care services and end the confusion over what services are available when. In doing so we will introduce a new single telephone number to direct patients to the right service, first timeThis number - 111 - will be free to call and available 24/7.  It will be launched in County Durham and Darlington this summer and in Nottingham City, Lincolnshire and Luton before the end of the year.”

Directions issued last December were supposedly intended to prevent NHS bodies from using numbers that cost patients more than the cost of a normal call to access NHS services, although this has been ineffective (see this briefing).

NHS Direct uses 0845 4647 for non-emergency enquiries and information and many other 0845 numbers, such as the Choose and Book appointments line 0845 608 8888. These cost most patients (i.e. those not calling from BT landlines) considerably more to call. The NHS Direct NHS Trust was exempted from these Directions because the introduction of 111 to cover these services was imminent.

Changes to the GP contract have also been introduced to prohibit use of expensive telephone numbers. These were resisted by the BMA, which believes that patients should pay extra for a better service. The BMA continues to attempt to block this move by now referring to meaningless assurances about the cost of telephone calls (see this briefing).

I comment:

"I am surprised that the new government has decided to not only prohibit excess charges, but to use the NHS budget to meet the full cost of non-emergency calls to access the appropriate NHS service through the 111 number.

"Some callers can now make calls to ordinary numbers within packages, at no cost for the call. I have always argued that it is fair to both patients and the taxpayers who fund the NHS for non-emergency calls to be subject to 'normal' charges. It is only the surcharge incurred with 084 numbers that breaches the principles of the NHS.

"I hope that the operational and cost implications of perhaps the majority of telephone calls to the NHS being directed through this number have been properly considered."

Monday, 7 June 2010

Fees to access public services by telephone - one of the changes to our way of life?

From: David Hickson - Public Services Campaigner

I quote below (copy posted here) a briefing sent to government ministers on the current practice of HMRC and the DWP agencies charging fees for access to services by telephone. They are amongst many other public sector bodies which do this by using revenue sharing 084 telephone numbers.

I have recently confirmed that HMRC collects these fees deliberately, by denying UK callers the opportunity to use alternative geographic numbers which it publishes for the benefit of overseas callers. I have been advised, by HMRC, that these numbers serve no particular distinct purpose; they provide access to exactly the same services. The only reason for preventing UK callers from using them is to protect the mechanism by which HMRC collects the service fee.

I call on the new ministers to pick up on work done for their predecessors to swiftly confirm that this is going on. I invite them to then make a decision to either:

·        Cease the practice, by switching to geographic (01/02) or 03 numbers. The latter may be used if special features are required on the line, as callers cannot be subjected to a surcharge.

OR ...

·        Acknowledge that paying fees to access public services is one of the changes to our way of life that we must accept. This may be regretted, as the burden of cost will naturally fall on those who need to access public services. These are however hard times and the government is very keen to discourage all use of public services.

I hope that the new government will not wish to continue the practice of Stealth Taxation.

My plea to the government is to let us know where you stand, so that we can debate the issues openly.

We do now know what the present situation is, so the debate can start now. The government can join in whenever it is ready.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

New Ofcom "rules" on Silent Calls

From: David Hickson – Stop Silent Calls Campaigner

At a time when radical changes to Ofcom’s powers are shortly to be discussed by parliament, which should expect an equally radical change in policy, Ofcom has made the most extraordinary announcement - Ofcom sets out new rules to tackle repeat silent calls.

This statement is a total disgrace.

A formal consultation is be wasted on some minor tinkering with rules that Ofcom does not even have the statutory powers to impose.

A thorough overhaul of Ofcom’s admittedly failed approach is essential for it to make a case to parliament for the granting of a massively increased penalty – we expect the final stage required for the implementation of this previously announced change to be attempted shortly.

By behaving as if such minor tinkering (and further confirmation that Silent Calls are tolerated) were somehow relevant at this time, Ofcom proves that it has totally missed the point.

If the government tries to get parliament to approve the increase to the maximum penalty, as requested by Ofcom, I will campaign furiously for the request to be thrown back to Ofcom with a demand to think again.

When parliament previously granted Ofcom an increase to the maximum penalty, it came with the clear expression of concern and the demand ...

“We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls”. (Hansard link / Audio Link)

In the four years that have passed since that expectation was placed on Ofcom, it has not even attempted to meet its very clear demand. The very terms of the proposed changes indicate that Ofcom is still focussed on regulation rather than eradication. They address the way in which Ofcom actually tolerates Silent Calls and how it will deal with those it knows to be making them, allowing them to continue in the practice. Ofcom cannot be expected to catch and penalise every Silent Caller, but for it to knowingly allow the practice to continue is simply intolerable.

Are we really keen for someone to get a £2 million penalty, not for making Silent Calls, but for making two automated calls to an answerphone in 24 hrs? Ofcom permits the first, but is consulting on its proposal to ban the second.

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