PATIENTS are being given the chance to say whether they want their surgery to cancel its 0844 telephone number.

Debbie Weston, practice manager at Ombersley Medical Centre, has taken the step of allowing patients to decide whether or not they keep the 0844 telephone number.

The centre even released a newsletter, letting people know they could register their views.

So far only three people out of the 4,070 patients on the books have been recorded as saying they want the number changed back to an ordinary local rate number.

The centre charges calls at 5p per minute - one pence more expensive than the local rate.

Patients have until the end of November to make their feelings known.

She said: "It's a much better service as it is and the telephone system stops people having to wait. There are no queues. I think people realise that to charge one pence extra per minute is not that bad. Our telephone service is much more efficient now. We have been corresponding with the PCT and they have more or less agreed that we're not charging excessively."

Mike Foster MP who wrote to health Secretary Alan Johnson in August urging him to ban all 0844 numbers admitted he had not yet had a reply.

He said: "I haven't heard back from him yet. I know that the debate has now kicked off across the country. I will ring my office now to get them to chase up the reply."

A spokesman for Worcestershire Primary Care Trust said: "The situation is that as independent contractors the GP surgeries determine the type of telephone systems they have in their surgery. We will, as far as the future is concerned, recommend that they don't employ 0844 numbers. However, it may not be particularly easy for them to disengage themselves from certain contracts."

Eleven surgeries across Worcestershire use 0844 numbers, including St John's House Surgery, Bromyard Road St John's, Worcester.

One of the telephone system's fiercest critics is amputee Sue Davis from St John's who has used the St John's House Surgery for 35 years and has appeared on BBC Breakfast to state her case.

She said: "I think the bad publicity may stop a number of GPs from adopting 0844 numbers. People will realise there's a general feeling in the country against doctors charging people for phoning them. The National Health Service is supposed to be free at the point of delivery. If you're ill and you have to pay for that call, then it's not."