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Hospital patient phones branded a 'rip off'

Relatives who call patients in hospital are still being forced to pay 'rip off' charges of 50p a minute despite a promised clampdown on the issue.

Relatives who call patients in hospital are still being forced to pay 'rip off' charges of 50p a minute despite a promised clampdown on the issue


Hospital telephone services have been branded a rip off. Picture: iStock

The firm Hospedia, which runs bedside TV and phone services in NHS hospitals and made £21.2 million in revenue last year, makes people call patients via costly 070 numbers.

The charges vary from hospital to hospital, but many trust websites say they cost approximately 50p-a-minute or more. Callers also have to listen to a lengthy recorded message of 70 seconds before they are even connected to their caller.

Critics described the charges as 'extortionate'. Hospedia currently manages TV and bedside phone services in 150 NHS hospitals, installing services for free in return for keeping the money charged to patients and relatives.

The firm said in 2014 it planned to phase out the use of 070 numbers, but this has not happened.

Ofcom reviewed the high costs in 2006 following complaints from users and recommended a 'substantial' reduction in incoming call charges.

Department of health review

It urged the Department of Health to review all aspects of the system and 'the way in which the cost of providing these services appears to be borne disproportionately by friends and family'.

The Department of Health looked at the issue and agreed to consider a skip facility at the start of the recorded message, enabling callers to bypass it and reduce the cost of the call.

But this never came into effect and high call charges have remained.

Refusal

Hospedia refused to answer several questions posed by the Press Association, including how much money it makes from 070 numbers and why it still uses them.

A spokesperson said: 'Ofcom granted us use of the 070 number range to enable every bedside unit to have its own unique telephone number so that friends and relatives can call patients directly, alleviating pressure on nursing staff having to field calls.

'The patient's bedside phone number is unique to each patient's account and can follow them around the hospital if they are moved bed, a frequent occurrence.'

The spokesperson added Hospedia offers free TV on children's wards and free channels one to five from 8am to noon on adult wards. Outbound calls to landlines are also free.

'Rip off'

But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the charges 'total rip off'. Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Lynda Thomas said: 'When you are having cancer treatment, getting a call from a relative can make a huge difference as you can share your worries, seek reassurance, or just hear their voice.

'But if relatives have to pay extortionate amounts to make these calls they may not call, cut it short, or shoulder the burden of these high charges, at a time when the whole family may be struggling financially.'

A spokesperson for Ofcom said it was concerned about 070 costs and wished to hear from customers as part of its ongoing monitoring.

Ofcom added there is no requirement on Hospedia to use 070 numbers, and that it was concerned about the cost of making calls to and from hospital patients.

Options

'Following an investigation into this, we referred our findings to the Department of Health, which has since changed its rules on mobile phone use in hospitals.

'We are glad that more patients now have the option of using their mobiles when in hospital, but arrangements for bedside phones are managed by the NHS.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: 'Suppliers should always put patients first in the way they provide services.'


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