Two Wrexham GP practices are among 29 Welsh surgeries using premium 0844 numbers that can leave patients with hefty bills.
Research by Plaid Cymru found that some patients are being charged 5.1p per min plus a 15p connection charge from a BT landline. This could increase to 44p a minute from a mobile phone.
The two practices in the Wrexham area are Borras Park Surgery in Borras Road and the Gardden Road surgery in Rhosllanerchrugog, Wrexham.
Plaid Cymru’s regional AM Llyr Gruffydd said: “A constituent registered with the Gardden Road surgery raised this matter with us after being kept waiting when he called to make an appointment. He was 17th in the queue and it became clear people would face a hefty bill if they had to wait so long to get through. As someone who had used the surgery all his life, he found that unacceptable and contacted my office.
“We’ve carried out this research and believe charging premium rates to access doctors goes against the NHS regulations that make it clear that surgeries should charge no more than the local rate.”
Surgeries in deprived areas of Rhondda Cynon Taf account for almost a quarter of those across Wales using 0844 lines and across Wales 19% of households don’t have a landline, so have to use mobiles.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones said: “It is hugely disappointing that GP surgeries across Wales are using expensive 0844 numbers for their patients to call.
“We have all experienced the frustration of being on hold in an automated queue for what can seem like many minutes while trying to book an appointment. But to discover that such calls can be very expensive is concerning.
“Stealth charges, such as these, could deter people seeking treatment from their doctor, with the inevitable result that some people might end up in an Accident and Emergency unit instead.
“Such charges are in contrast to the policy of previous Welsh Governments in relation to charging. This has led to the phasing out car parking charges in hospitals and, of course, the free prescription policy.”
“Plaid Cymru believes that such charges go against the spirit of the NHS. Regulations state that patients should not pay more to make calls to a GP practice than other calls in the area.
“I have written to the minister to clarify whether he considers the use of premium rate numbers appropriate in our health service, and to stamp out this practice so that patients only pay local rate call charges.”