Hospital phone line charges to soarFirm made no profit despite heavy investment

04 April 2007

The cost to patients of making telephone calls from their hospital bed is to increase by 160 per cent today.

Patientline, which charges people to make phone calls and watch television in hospital, is to increase its call charge from 10p a minute to 26p.

It told the BBC the move was necessary because it had never made a profit despite investing £160m in the system.

The move has angered patients and hospital staff with many in the NHS viewing the charges as unfair.

Patientline charges patients £3.50 a day to watch television and £2.20 for an hour on the internet. The firm posted losses of £25 million last year.

Call compensation

It says it is reducing the cost of television to £2.90 from £3.50 a day to compensate for the higher cost of calls.

For people outside hospital calling patients at their bedside the cost is 39p per minute off-peak and 49p a minute peak.

An investigation by Ofcom, which regulates phone and television services, last year claimed the firm could be breaking competition laws because of the high charges for dialling into hospitals.

It recommended that the Department of Health reviewed hospital bedside telephone and entertainment systems.

Mobile phones

In the past, many hospitals have operated bans on, or restricted the use of, mobile phones within their buildings.

But last month, Health Minister Andy Burnham said he saw 'no reason' why they could not be used within hospitals.

A statement from Patientline said: 'The drive towards simpler communication and simpler activation is reflected in Patientline's standardisation of its television pricing to £2.90 per day, which will now include free radio, free internet and free games on internet-enabled consoles.

'Patientline has also introduced long-stay rates that reduce daily rates for television to as little as £2.

New price structure

'During April, we will be rolling out a new pricing structure at sites across the UK.

'By the end of the month it is hoped that patients will be enjoying the benefits of cheaper TV, internet and games at their bedside during what can be an uncomfortable time in hospital.

'Patientline is the UK's main provider of hospital bedside entertainment and communications and is one of several private companies commissioned by the Government to provide this service as a supplement to existing hospital facilities - and at no cost to the NHS.

'As Ofcom has recognised, our charges are dictated by the Government's contract with Patientline, which means we have to fund and recover all installation (about £1 million per hospital) as well as the additional day-to-day running costs.

No profit

'Patientline has yet to make a profit due to this heavy investment programme and in order to make the reduced costs for TV, internet and games economically viable we have had to increase the cost of outgoing calls to 26p per minute from 10p for the time being.'

The company  added it had been forced to postpone an announcement on new telephone charges after protracted discussions with the Department of Health.

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