A LEADING doctor who uses a premium rate number at his practice has defended surgeries who use the telephone lines.

Dr Simon Parkinson, secretary of the Worcestershire Local Medical Committee, says the 0844 numbers are only moderately more costly than local calls, and have helped doctors improve call handing capabilities.

Dr Parkinson who uses the number at his St Stephen's Surgery in Redditch speaks on behalf of GPs throughout Worcestershire in his role as secretary of the LMC, an elected statutory body representing the interests of family doctors working in the county.

He said the money from calls did go into the pockets of GPs but helped cover the costs of an automated call handling system which improved the standard of service experienced by the patients themselves.

He added: "We are not aware there is a significant cost. People prefer to be held in a queue then to keep having to redial and we don't profit from it. I certainly don't make any money from it. There were practices that did have premium rate calls. I would not condone premium rate calls. We thought this was a reasonable way of providing for a better service.

"There were negligible additional costs for patients. If patients got their calls answered quickly and efficiently we thought that was a good deal. There's no spare cash around in the health service and Gordon Brown's budget has been very tight and this money didn't come down to general practices."

He also said the system, which is connected a computer, let the practice know valuable information like how long it was taking to answer calls and the volume of calls.

Your Worcester News reported last week how Worcester MP Mike Foster had written to Health Secretary Alan Johnson, asking him to ban all 0844 numbers.

The numbers are used by 11 GP surgeries across Worcestershire, including St John's House Surgery in Bromyard Road, Worcester.

The department of health has already banned 087, 090 and 901 numbers but 0844 numbers were considered local rate and were not banned.