Having spent so much time in a hospital over the last nine months I feel I must write a blog entry about Patientline. It’s probably more of a moan than a contribution to the wealth of useful news and information on the Internet.
Patientline is probably installed by most NHS Trusts as a solution to providing bedside entertainment and communication facilities such as TV, telephone and games, yet with inbound calls costing 39p or more to concerned friends and relatives, outbound calls costing at least 10p per minute and TV costing up to £108.50 per month it could be argued that while the facility exists it is not really available to those on low incomes, or even no income due to the very fact that they are in hospital. Once you have spent at least £147 on six weeks of television you become eligble to receive the service at half price, about £51 pounds a month, this is a fact that is not advertised but if you ask the operator for cheaper TV and you meet this criteria then they will arrange this for you.
Still, even £51 a month, or £1.70 per day as it is charged, is £10 more than Sky currently charge for their most expensive channel package, a package which offers all the latest movies and sports events. Patientline’s offering consists of 11 channels which are free through other providers (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, ITV2, CH4, CH5, BBC News24, CBeebies, CNN and Extreme Sports) and 7 additional channels (Bravo, Cartoon Network, TCM, Trouble, UK Drama, UK Gold and UK Living). Some of the most popular channels, even free ones, available on other multichannel platforms are missing, such as BBC3, E4 and Sky1.
Having a daily rate for TV viewing makes sense when a large percentage of your patients are only going to be in hospital for a short stay, but the fact that each payment only lasts for 24 hours regardless of how much TV you watch makes the service an unviable solution for longer term patients or their visiting relatives, even if the only thing you want to do is keep up with a daily BBC or ITV soap for half an hour each weekday it will cost you £75/month. Where such high premiums are charged for the most basic of viewing I think it is unfair not to offer a better selection of content, either by including a wider range of popular channels or by including premium content such as movies and sport for what is, after all, a premium price. Better still, make the money last for a certain number of viewing hours, rather than a period of time from the moment of activation. Or, even better yet, offer a good selection of free UK channels for no fee whatsoever and then a good selection of premium channels for a premium fee.
At least 39p/minute off-peak and a minimum of 49p/minute peak rate for incoming calls is obviously designed to earn Patientline a lot of money, and when a relative is particularly concerned about somebody they may not listen properly to the warning about the call charges which last for about 50 seconds before you are connected to the patients room. What adds some extra frustrastion is that the service does not always work and the caller is cut off or put through to voicemail after 50 seconds. My Mum and Ladan’s Dad have both spent a fortune trying to call Ladan’s room when I have been here and the phone has been free and not set to go to answerphone but the Patientline service has kept failing to put them through after the recorded messages. Because there is nothing to indicate that the error is with Patientline callers will keep calling and giving more and more money to PatienLine without being able to speak to their loved ones. When such problems occur it is often possible to make a call via the operator by pressing 0 for operator assistance rather than entering the extension number for the room, on these occasions the operators are rarely apologetic for the inconvenience and expense that their system’s faults are causing. 50p/minute is overpriced even if the service will reliably do everything it is supposed to do, but its frequent failings make the high charge rediculous.
There is a payphone on most wards, ironically operated by Patientline, that allows patients to make outbound calls for as little as 30p for 15 minutes to UK land-line nunbers, so 10p/miniute for outgoing calls (with a minimum of 20p per call) is again very expensive, but not prohibitively so.
In reality, watching any amount of television with Patientline quickly becomes prohibitively expensive for those who are in hospital for a while, and incoming calls are so expensive that loved ones simply don’t call the bedside phone anywhere near as often as they would like nor do their calls last as long as they would wish. If Patientline could cut the cost of calling the bedside phone a reduced profit margin would probably mean increased profits as more people would feel comfortable using the service for inbound calls.
Patientline is a service with some merits, its headphones mean that people can watch tv in private without interrupting other patients and the phone facility means that you can get through to a patient (when its working) without having to call the main ward. The biggest problem is the pricing structure that makes it too expensive to use for a prolonged period of time.