Hospedia – a private company supplying telephone, media and entertainment services to 150 NHS hospitals – has been criticised for the ‘rip off’ fees it charges when people phone their loved ones.
When friends or family members call a patient’s bedside phone, they are charged 50 pence a minute or even more.
To make matters worse, before they can even speak to the patient, they have to sit through a 70-second recorded message, also charged at 50 pence per minute.
This message contains information the caller is likely to already know – like the fact the patient is in hospital – and the message even asks the caller to be ‘patient’.
In many hospitals, the use of mobile phones on the wards is forbidden. Though mobiles can be used in other parts of hospitals, this rule means that bedbound patients have no choice but to use the bedside phones operated by Hospedia.
This rule also impacts more on elderly patients who – even if they are not bedbound – are less likely to have mobile phones.
Hospedia operates telephones in hospitals managed by County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Trust, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, and South Tyneside NHS Trust.
Last year, Hospedia turned over £21.2 million.
The calls are expensive because they have to be made on premium rate 070 numbers in spite of the fact that Hospedia said they would phase these numbers out three years ago.
As far back as 2007, the Department of Health said they would consider allowing customers to skip Hospedia’s recorded message. Ten years later, sitting through the message is still unavoidable.
Outgoing calls from the bedside phones can be made for free, but only if the patient buys a ‘value bundle’. The value bundle, which lasts for 18 hours and costs £7.50, includes internet access, 20 television channels, 17 films and ‘free’ outgoing calls.
Sky Sports can cost an extra £10 per day on top of that.
Hospedia provides free television on children’s wards and channels one to five for free for four hours every morning on adult wards.
— Glen Hunt (@RadioGlen) April 16, 2017
A Hospedia spokesperson said, “We believe we offer an excellent service, which would not be provided at all if it weren’t for us taking on the investment and ongoing management and support costs.”
But others have been quick to criticise Hospedia’s telephone charges.
The chair of the Patients’ Association, Liz McAnulty, said, “Phone contact can be hugely valuable and reassuring to people in hospital and their loved ones at home.”
“Any facility to provide this must offer a high-quality service at a fair price, but Hospedia’s service appears to fail these tests badly.”
“It is unacceptable for people calling someone in hospital to be charged heavily for 70 seconds before they even get through.”
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of McMillan Cancer Support, said, “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.”
(Featured image courtesy of Rick Kimpel, from Flickr Creative Commons)