0845 number ‘penalises sick and poor’, says patient

AN ELLON woman is campaigning to abolish the 0845 phone number at Ellon Health Centre after telling the Times that it penalises the poor and the sick.

Ruth Bisset, of Esslemont Circle, claims that she was left hundreds of pounds out of pocket after discovering that calling the number was costing her £3 a time from her mobile phone.

Since then, she has organised a petition in local shops to have the number returned to a local one.

Speaking to the Times, she said: “I started noticing how high the charges were last year. It got to the stage where I had my contract cancelled because I owed hundreds of pounds and couldn’t afford the bill. It’s the same for all the public sector bodies - the police, G-Docs and NHS 24 all use 0845 numbers.

“The Health Centre should just use a normal landline number. When my doctor phones me, he does so from a landline, so they exist already. However, patients have to use the expensive 0845 number, which many can’t afford.”

Ms Bisset’s petition has gathered support from 170 people thus far, with more expected to come. The Esslemont Circle resident, who was hospitalised for six months with bipolar disorder, argues that the system penalises those unable to afford a landline.

“I have rheumatoid arthritis, and now I have to walk to the centre to speak to my doctor,” she said.

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian defended the new system, however, saying that it was essential to deal with the high volume of calls received by the Health Service.

“These numbers are not on premium rate tariffs. Callers are charged at local rates from standard BT landlines, although mobile rates may vary depending on the provider,” she said.

“The previous system could no longer properly cope with demand. The 0845 system allows calls to be queued, presented and answered in a fair and efficient manner. It gives health centres and clinics access to ‘real time’ and historical statistics. This allows health centre managers to understand and address the peaks and troughs associated with incoming calls. The 0845 system also gives complete, instant control of how calls are handled and answered in an emergency.”