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Health Dept. to review high hospital phone charges

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Ofcom has called on the Department of Health (DoH) to carry out a review into the cost of phoning patients in hospital. The review stems from an investigation launched by the comms regulator last summer amid allegations that people were being ripped off for telephoning patients in hospital.

Two companies - Patientline Ltd and Premier Managed Payphones Ltd - operate bedside phone systems that enable patients in hospital to make and receive calls. While making a call from hospital costs about 10p a minute, phoning a patient can cost 39p off peak and 49p for a peak-rate call.

Closing its probe into whether these charges were "excessive", Ofcom said that its investigation had "identified that high call prices are a result of a complex web of government policy and agreements between the providers, the NHS and individual NHS Trusts".

The bedside phones - which also provide TV and radio - are not paid for by the NHS but by the companies involved which then seek to recover their investment - around £1m per hospital - from the high call charges.

Ofcom wants the DoH to take another look at the issue adding that the review "should include the way in which the cost of providing these services appears to be borne disproportionately by friends and family calling patients in hospital".

The DoH, Patientline and Premier have already told Ofcom they are prepared to look into ways to improve matters.

In a statement, Patientline chairman, Derek Lewis, welcomed today's announcement which, he said, "recognises that Patientline's charges have been dictated by the structure of the Government's programme."

"Ofcom has concluded that 'providers have been forced to turn to incoming call revenues in order to recover their costs of installation and operation'. We will continue to work with the DoH to secure a more appropriate method of funding for this important NHS service," he said. ®

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