Research by Plaid Cymru has discovered that almost 30 Welsh GP surgeries are using premium 0844 numbers which can leave patients with hefty bills.
After receiving information, researchers checked the websites of all seven local health boards and found 29 surgeries listing the number which charge 5.1p per min plus a 15p connection charge from a BT landline but can be up to 44p a minute from a mobile phone.
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 of 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.”