An unexpected walled garden – Patientline : Hospital phone charges up 160%

From the BBC article below.

This is sad because we, who understand technology, know that voice charges are leaning to zero! Thus, increase voice rates by 160% for patients in hospitals – is not good. In fact, I think voice calls should be free(no problem charging for movies etc). Maybe it is time to look at mobile phones in hospitals(as we are reconsidering mobile phones on aircrafts).

From the BBC below >>>>

Hospital phone charges up 160%

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, which is 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.

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

It said that while call charges would increase, the cost of the complete bedside “package” would fall from £3.50 a day to £2.90.

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

‘Luxury service’

Patientline systems are installed at more than 75,000 hospital bedsides.

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.

And he said Patientline had admitted it was £80m in debt and currently had enough money left to only operate for the next 12 months.

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

It added that contact with relatives can have a significant impact on a patient’s wellbeing.

Mobiles ban

Andrew Stronach, from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said he had written to Patientline to formally object to the price rise and demand a meeting.

“They have agreed a stay of execution for two weeks and as a result they will not be putting up the charges here from today.”

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.

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

Comments

  1. Ajit,
    Walled Gardens maybe but free?
    I agree that voice costs are tending to zero however hardware costs aren’t (are they?).
    So, in fairness to the patientline folk, they must charge something surely to recoup the cost of hardware and installation.
    Using mobiles and you imply will still have a hardware cost also – although substantially less I suspect.
    I think there’s a danger of comparing apples with pears here. Comparing patientline call costs with that of another provider is not reasonable.
    Stuart
    PS: Whilst I may appear to be defending patientline my intention is to present a different argument – I have no affiliation with them! :)

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hi Stewart, good to hear from you. To clarify, I am not saying they should be free and ofcourse patientline is a different ecosystem than an Operator.What I am saying is – in an environment where voice seems to be getting cheaper, its ironic to charge more for voice. In fact, I think its better to charge more for movies etc – since someone who is ill will want to communicate more – especially in long term care. Thats my view. kind rgds Ajit

  3. Bleeper says:

    Patienline is a company with a huge problem created by an ill thought out plan by ‘Nu Labour’ back in 1997. The problem now is that sick people particularly old sick people are having to pay for the mistakes of politicians and over paid company executives who have badly got their sums wrong.
    Patientline are not making huge profits from Patients, they are not that clever. The company’s shares are currently valued at less than 2p (and still falling) and is making huge losses. The Chairman of Patienline, the hard pressed Geoff White admited recently that the company can not survive any longer than 12 months on current performance.
    Poorly paid Patientline staff work under conciderable ‘sales target’ pressure and with equipment that is mostly not fit for purpose.
    So what did Patienline’s Directors and Managers do last week ? They make matters worse, a lot wores in fact and announced a‘restructruturing’ of prices which will cost sick people more.
    The recent botched ‘restructuring’ of the prices of their products includes the abolition of the reduced rate for patients over 65, who will now have to pay the full daily rate of £2.90 and not £1.70.
    Amazingly, Patientline also increased the price of outgoing calls from the bedside from 10p per min to 26p and introduced a minimum call charge of 40p (previously 20p) for outgoing calls which is charged regardles of whether an outgoing call is answered or not. The press release issued by Patienline last week was very enconomical with the truth. The slating of Patientline in both local and national newspapers last week was due to the huge increas in prices for outgoing telephone calls.
    Perhaps after all the company was trying to be clever and force the Department of Health to pay a subsidy to keep prices down. Maybe, but Patientline clearly underestimated the hate that patients and NHS staff feel towards the company; which is evidence of how out of touvh Patrientline’s directors are.
    So long as prisoners in the nations over crowded prisions receive free TV and yet sick people have to pay for their TV viewing there will always be, understandably, complaints.
    Only Politicians can put that right. Howvever, so long as Patientline operate with insensitivity, faulty equipment they will continue to to be critisised.
    Is there any wonder that Patienlines staff sickness levels are so high we are trying to give a good service under great pressure.
    ‘Bleeper’ – A member of Patientline Staff.

  4. pw4 says:

    Patientline directors themselves are under pressure from the shareholders. Morgan Stanley, Shore Capital (non-exec director Barclay Douglas’ company), and Barclays have all increased their holdings recently; presumably to have a greater influence over the board. Whether this has any connection with Group Finance Director Phil Dennis deciding to leave today “by mutual agreement” is not clear to me.
    The slating of the company in newspapers was indeed due to the increase in prices, but don’t imagine this was the BBC keeping its journalistic ear to the ground. The adverse publicity was due, as it was in May last year, to an orchestrated campaign by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, a public body funded by the Department of Health, who urges Patientline to reduce its charges but fails to make any constructive suggestions as to how the services are to be otherwise funded.