Patient's phone callsPatients exploited by hospital phone call costs

15 May 2006

Patients are being 'exploited' by the sky-high charges of hospital phone systems, a survey has revealed today.

Nine out of ten patients and visitors think hospital phone calls are too pricey. Where the phone system is run by a private company, it can cost up to 49p a minute to call a relative in hospital.

Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forums talked to 1,255 people at 76 hospitals for their views on hospital phone charges.

Derek Easton from East Kent Hospitals PPI Forum said: 'Whilst many of the patients we spoke to welcome the convenience of the system, this was countered by a very strong belief that the charges were exorbitant.

'Those we surveyed also believed that the patient is being penalised, exploited at a hugely vulnerable time in their lives. We also noted that while evidence has shown that mobile phones do not cause problems with medical equipment, hospital trusts often prohibit their use giving the patient no choice but to use the expensive bedside systems.'

Ofcom investigation

One of the people surveyed by a PPI Forum had spent GBP 270 calling her husband while he was in hospital for five weeks recovery from a heart bypass. Another patient said they had spent over GBP 100 using the bedside telephone system but had received few calls during their four week stay because friends were put off by the cost of calling.

The findings will be sent to the Department of Health which is also looking at hospital call charges following an investigation by the communications watchdog Ofcom.

Which? Health Campaigns Team Leader Sara Apps said: 'We're looking forward to the outcome of the Department of Health's review. The growth in charges for hotel facilities and non-clinical services, including telephone calls, is worrying. While the costs of providing such services should not be met from NHS funds, they should not be used as a source of income generation.'

PPI Forums are independent statutory bodies, set up by the government to provide a voice for patients and local communities in all health decisions and services.

There is one PPI Forum per NHS Trust and all PPI Forum members are volunteers who are working to improve local health services for their communities. However, the Department of Health is reviewing PPI Forums and a decision on their future is due this month.