HEALTH bosses in Worcestershire and Hereford-shire say they have led the way in axing premium rate telephone numbers for contacting health services before the Government bans them.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Mike O’Brien announced a national ban on 084 numbers which make it expensive to contact a GP or hospital.

But NHS Herefordshire said it changed the out-of-hours number for contacting doctors and dentists on April 1.

NHS Worcestershire changed its out-of-hours number to the local rate 0300 1233211 in October last year when Take Care Now (TCN) took over running the service which allows people to access a GP on weekdays between 6pm and 8am and during weekends and bank holidays.

NHS Herefordshire sent leaflets to every home in the county explaining the services available, listing the new number – which is 0330 1239309.

The service is provided by NHS Herefordshire together with private firm Primecare. It helps about 3,000 people every month with up to 4,500 using the service in January.

These include patients suffering from severe abdominal pains as well as general enquiries about flu and vomiting.

Ian Williams, director of integrated commissioning for Herefordshire Council and NHS Herefordshire, said: “The out-of-hours service is there to help people who have an urgent medical or dental concern while their GP or dental surgery is closed.

“We anticipated that the number should be charged at a local rate rather than a premium one as it is important that people on low incomes should never be inhibited in using the telephone when they need help, advice or treatment.”

Some GP practices in Worcestershire still have the premium rate numbers, notably St John’s House Surgery in Worc-ester and Ombersley Medical Centre at Ombersley, near Worcester.

A spokesman for NHS Worcestershire said: “In terms of the out-of-hours number we have been compliant since October last year.”

She said NHS Worcester-shire would wait for the Department of Health to issue more guidance before reviewing the situation in the county.