Patient Line. A disgusting disgrace? Judge a nation on how it treats its sick

Sadly this evening my father was taken into hospital with a kidney problem. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to be too serious. As he’s in Manchester and I’m in London a visit isn’t possible, but of course I wanted to speak to him and check he’s ok. So I find myself having to use Patient Line.

For those who don’t know, this is a system so you can call people in hospital. I picked up the phone to hear an announcement; “this call costs 49p a minute peak, 39p off peak although it may vary from mobile or international telephones.”

This slow drawl took around 20 seconds to get through, only to be followed by another long, unnecessary announcement, racking up a minute’s (i.e. 39p’s) worth of call before I could speak to my father. Of course you’re not allowed to use a mobile in a hospital as it interferes with the equipment. This is something I would love to know more about as there’s the niggling suspicion that this simply helps make Patient Line more cash.

Now I’m in the fortunate position that I can afford to make a call of this type without having to worry over duly about the bill. However, self-evidentially, I’m more than aware that many people can’t. The fallacy is many who have bad debts and low incomes have them due to incapacity, illness or injury.

The cost of these phone calls is simply an outrageous fortune – not far short of premium rate sex lines – yet this is to call someone in hospital. At the moment I’m seething about it – surely we judge a nation on how it treats its sick? In this country it seems we rip them off, and deny them the comfort of family and friends whilst ill, due to the need to profit on the back of it.

Sadly there’s no solution to cutting the call cost here. It’s a fixed fee. You’re stuck. In my view it shouldn’t be allowed. I’ve not particularly researched this call line, yet I’ve read a few things on it. From memory (and I’m scraping so forgive me) some of the proceeds go to the NHS. I also believe the cost of Patient Line is being investigated.

When I calm down I plan to schedule in some research time on this. Perhaps (if it’s not already been done elsewhere) this is something that needs a petition on it – to gather public opinion and force politicians to stop such practices.

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Update Note 4 Sept 05

I’ve calmed down about this a little now. My father is sadly back in hospital again, but this time he is allowed to use his mobile. While I haven’t done as much reading as I’d like on the PatientLine I’ve learned a little since.

There has been a fuss in parliament about the cost of calling the line, though it should be noted calling out is cheaper (and thus if its a close relative, if you need to call them, if you should get them to call you back to save).

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into Patientline pricing and suggests there are concerns, yet it has referred the case to the Department for health.

The finances behind Patientline’s terminals seem complex, and according to other reading part of this problem is due to the fact that the NHS hasn’t implemented some technology changes which were due to utilise the Patientline system and thus off-set the cost.

Yet when all’s said and done 50p a minute is too expensive to call someone who is ill in hospital.