[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
Hospital phone charges up 160%
Patientline entertainment system
Patientline also provides bedside TV, radio and internet
A firm that provides phone services at thousands of NHS hospital bedsides is to increase the cost of calls by 160%.

Previously, calls made by NHS patients through Patientline phones cost 10p per minute, but that will now rise to 26p.

Patientline, a private company, told the BBC it had invested 160m in the system and needed to recoup its costs and make a profit.

In 2005, the firm was investigated by regulators over its charges, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Outside calls

Patientline also provides television screens and radio and internet services at hospital bedsides.

The company's systems are installed at more than 75,000 hospital bedsides.

It says that, while call charges will increase, the cost of the complete bedside "package" will fall from 3.50 a day to 2.90.

What we've done in our new pricing structure is, we've realigned our prices to bring the price of TV, which the majority of people watch, to a much lower level
Charlotte Brown
Patientline

Calls to patients from outside the hospital cost 39p per minute off-peak and 49p a minute at peak times.

Commercial director Charlotte Brown told BBC News: "Of the people that are in the hospital beds - patients in hospital who spend money with us - 70% of them actually spend that money on watching television.

"What we've done in our new pricing structure is, we've realigned our prices to bring the price of TV, which the majority of people watch, to a much lower level."

There would now be reductions in the price of packages for people staying for longer than two or three days who would also be able to get free games and internet services, she added.

Patientline has admitted it is 80m in debt and currently only has enough money left to operate for the next 12 months.

"As a private sector company, we've put millions of pounds worth of equipment into these hospitals and that's a massive investment for us," Ms Brown said.

"We are trying to recoup that in a way that still provides value for money for the patient in the bed and we feel that we're doing that."

'No choice'

BBC Breakfast's Graham Satchell said the government had always maintained that these services were a luxury and should not come at a cost to the taxpayer or the NHS.

These people are ill, often recovering from operations, and the hike from 10p to 26p to phone out is really too much
Michael Summers
Patients Association

The Patients Association says patients often have no choice but to use Patientline because many hospitals no longer have public pay phones.

Spokesman Michael Summers said the cost of incoming calls was already high, and the latest increase would lead to more complaints.

"These people are ill, often recovering from operations, and the hike from 10p to 26p to phone out is really too much. People are going to be really upset with this."

Telecoms regulator Ofcom investigated Patientline two years ago after complaints that charges were too high.

In the past, many hospitals have operated bans on or restricted the use mobile phones within their buildings, meaning patients often had to use other phone services.

HAVE YOUR SAY
50p per minute - no wonder they don't want us to use our mobile phones in hospital.
Paul, Aberdeen

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

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Arrangements with providers of bedside entertainment systems are agreed locally, and Patientline should be discussing any proposed pricing restructuring with NHS trusts.

"Except in a few cases, where a party is in default, any changes need to be the result of mutual agreement.

"Initially, obligation to object to a unilateral act by Patientline falls on the affected trust."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Why Patientline say they have increased prices



SEE ALSO
Losses up at hospital phone firm
13 Jun 06 |  Business
Patientline boss faces quit calls
13 Feb 06 |  Business
Review of bedside phone charges
18 Jan 06 |  Health
Patientline hit by Ofcom inquiry
25 Jul 05 |  Business

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific