NHS, New Layout and UK Phone Numbers Review

Written:  10th of May 2014

Part of the subject matter is self-explanatory. Finally gave up on channelling my inner broody teenager and have opted for what is (hopefully) at more cheerful theme that is completely misaligned with 70% of the subject matter that I cover (tahdah), you are now feasting your eyes – despite the fact that, actually, no one really cares about it – on the WordPress theme “Flore” but it would be impossible to not comment on the change since you’re staring right at it.

Relatively recently (a month ago or so), I registered at my Local GP. Since I have been living here for over a year now, I pass the habitual residence test that is required of all non-UK/non-EU Citizens so, in theory, I qualify for NHS coverage (specific details related to that are covered in an older post).

Bless the 21st century; people can register for a GP online with a standardised form across all of the NHS. Once you have verified that you are in the service area for a practice, you fill in the information on a form online and send it off to them (literally, I filled and sent mine off one day before I physically went to the GP), 24 hours later you can walk into the building, sign the documents, take their packet of forms and information, and you’re good to go.

When registering with a new practice, in the UK, it is customary to meet with a Nurse Practitioner and while they encourage you to set up an appointment the same day you register, I have opted to wait until now to do it. In the time between registration and today, I received a letter in the mail with my NHS number. This is not to be confused with the UK National Insurance (NI) number, which acts more like the US Social Security number (SSN). It is an internal NHS number used to track and refer patients and that is basically it.

Fast-forward to yesterday where I finally stopped procrastinating and rang up the GP to make that overdue appointment with the NP. It was, surprisingly, a painless process. I told them what days would be good for me and they suggested times that were available. I am scheduled to go see them on Wednesday at 2PM.

So where do phone numbers fit into all of this? Well, I was reminded of it when I was talking with a friend online about how Americans use the English language. He observed, “We give information to people in threes,” before giving me examples of both spelling out words and phone numbers. But it isn’t quite universal.

When I was speaking to who I assume was the receptionist for the clinic but could have just as easily been the Doctor or one of the nursing staff, she tried to give me a number for some additional information I was requesting.

Remember way, way, back when I had the post about the inconsistency of how UK phone numbers are written? Yeah, it carries right on through to how they speak them as well. The vast majority of people give the phone number exactly as it is written in front of them, or how they know it. In this case, she listed the first five numbers all at once, paused and then gave the last six.

So it looked something like this: 12345 123456

A thing to note is that this is probably the most correct method I’ve found for phone numbers in the UK as the area code is actually five numbers long. Unlike the US which is only three. The last remaining six numbers is where things tend to go wonky, because it can appear as any of the following:

123 456

12 34 56


Occasionally, you will see the splitting of the area code numbers to achieve something that almost looks backwards to the American eye:

1234 5123 456

Consequently, I’ve found it harder to record information given to me because it can come at me in groups of three, four or five items at a time and I honestly think how the phone numbers are written – rather, how people are taught to read them here – is to blame.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

My experience with the NHS will likely be a multi-part series (much like “Renting in the UK”) so expect to see in the coming weeks at least a part two to this saga.



2 thoughts on “NHS, New Layout and UK Phone Numbers Review

  1. Ah but you see the dialing code is not always 5 digits, although the full number is always 11. It can be 3 (e.g. 020 for London), 4 (e.g. 0113 for Leeds), or 5. For 3 and four digit codes the remaining 8, or 7, are often split into 3 (or4) and 3 as the first block are generally geographically assigned (and historically – we’re talking decades ago – you could dial just the last four digits for a number on the same exchange)
    This is further complicated by people who are used to the “old” codes which were changed decades ago and (e.g.) still write London numbers as 0207 & 0208 based on the old 071 & 081 codes which were their predecessors.

    If you’re ever really bored then this site will tell you the “proper” format for any area code and the allocations of the numbers under that one: http://www.ukphoneinfo.com/locator

    1. That is actually very interesting. In the States, to my knowledge it’s always been three numbers. This goes a long way to explaining why there is no real consistent format to the phone numbers in the UK. Thank you so much for sharing it!

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