SICK people seeking a doctor outside normal office hours in Londonderry now ring a local telephone number following changes introduced by the service deliverer.
Western Urgent Care is responsible for the provision of the GP Out of Hours Service in Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh and handles roughly 100,000 calls per year from its base on the Northland Road.
Up until last week people who needed to contact a doctor outside normal office hours, at weekends or on bank holidays rang a generic 0870 telephone number. But that all changed last Monday when a local 02871 number was introduced.
The change followed the implementation of new rules by the communications watchdog Ofcom last August governing 0870 telephone numbers and aimed at giving consumers a much clearer idea of how much it costs to call these numbers.
Ofcom noted that 0870 numbers were previously used by many businesses and organisations to provide a wide range of information and advice including many customer service lines.
But consumers were often charged more for calling these numbers than they would if they called a "geographic rate."
General Manager of Western Urgent Care Mr Eugene Dunne said the switch to a local telephone number was a simple matter of economics and reducing costs.
"Basically it was down to the cost," said Mr Dunne. "With the 0870 numbers Western Urgent Care was being billed for the entire cost of the call.
"With the local number patients will be charged no more than if they were contacting their doctor as normal," he said.
The Western Urgent Care service has been in operation since 2005 and handles approximately 100,000 telephone calls annually.
Its existing telephone number changed from 08706062288 to 02871865195 on Monday, February 15.
Users are reminded that if they ring the old telephone number they will get a voice message telling them the new number to ring.