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pounds 15,000; The income hospital made from its patients.

Byline: By MARIE LEVY

A TEESSIDE hospital has admitted using a fixed rate telephone number to make money out of patients.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust acquired an 0844 number two years ago so that it would have one number covering its three hospital sites.

A trust spokeswoman said it generated about pounds 15,000 income.

The number only became fully operational in June 2007 as the trust was coming to the end of a period of significant financial recovery and was discontinued in January this year. In reply to a complaint, John Maddison, director of finance, recently admitted: "We reluctantly took the decision to have the number because it generated a modest income for us at a time when we had a significant savings target to ensure that we could continue to provide safe, quality services to patients."

The trust reverted back to its original numbers at the end of January this year following complaints from patients about the increased cost.

But it has been revealed that patients are still being charged if they dial the old number.

David Hickson of London has identified several hospital trusts that he claims are breaching the principle of the NHS being "free at the point of need" by making money out of the 0844 number.

Mr Hickson said North Tees has not completely phased out the 0844 number.

"You continue to receive income derived from patients as calls to 0844 8118222 are still being accepted, rather than being re-directed," he told them.

Mr Hickson said he found the old number on web pages for NHS Choices search, NHS Choose and Book, NHS networks list of acute trusts, Radio North Tees and The University of Teesside.

"I also understand that calls to the 0844 number are still being solicited in materials published by the trust itself."

Fixed rate telemarketing numbers such as the 5p-a-minute 0844 numbers generate additional income for businesses. Even small companies can generate thousands of pounds a year.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: "We have now contacted all of the organisations listed and informed them of our change of telephone number.

"We have also searched on Google and we are informing each organisation where our number is listed on their website that it is now changed.

"Where possible we give direct line numbers to patients, on patient information leaflets for example. However, as we go through the process of revising and updating leaflets, we will make sure that any reference to the 0844 number is removed."

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PHONE ROW: Health trust chiefs admit making money
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:May 21, 2008
Words:428
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