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The Cost of Privatization

John Simkin

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The government says this has nothing to do with them. However, it is one of many side-effects of privatization. Patientline is exploiting a captive market. That is what capitalism does given the chance. That is why it is wrong for governments to give out these "exclusive" contracts. That is why these companies give donations to the Labour Party.


The cost to patients of making telephone calls from their hospital bed is to increase by 160% 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 £25m last year.

It says it is reducing the cost of television to £2.90 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.

Andrew Stronach from the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital said: "We have written to Patientline to formally object and to demand a meeting with them to discuss this step.

"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."

Sharon Grant, chair of the commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which has campaigned on the issue, said: "This is an example of commissioning gone seriously wrong.

"It is plainly obvious that patients were already extremely unhappy at the exorbitant cost of these systems.

"This latest hike in call charges will come as a further blow to patients and their families who should be able to keep in touch with each other easily and affordably.

"Patientline must seriously rethink these costs and NHS Trusts across the country must follow the lead of others such as the Mid Staffordshire Hospitals in giving patients a real choice in how they make their calls. There are serious lessons to be learned.

"If Patientline is unable to respond to the wishes of patients then they should not be in the market."

In the past, many hospitals have operated bans on, or restricted the use of, 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.

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