The shocking cost of calling a hospital patient

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Patient wearing gown on hospital bed

We were supposed to have seen the end of the days when hospital patients and their families were being bled dry by phone companies. Five years ago, when the Patientline system made way for Hospedia, we celebrated a victory for patients, who could now watch television and stay in touch with their loved ones without breaking the bank.

But a new report has revealed a serious problem with the system.

In 2009 a scandal broke about the cost of using the phone or watching TV in hospital through what was then called Patientline. The company had spent a small fortune installing phones and TVs by bedsides - and had a contract which allowed them to rake in cash from patients in order to pay them back.

However, after an outcry from patients and their families, the system was taken over by Hospedia, phone charges were slashed, and new packages introduced which meant that instead of being forced to pay a fortune, calls were much cheaper - and on some packages could actually be made free of charge.

If you sign up for some packages, calls are included. Otherwise, the cost of the calls is usually 10p a minute - which is a reasonably competitive charge for a public phone.

The rip off

However, if you call a patient back on their 070 number, you will pay far more. The cost varies between hospitals so, for example, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow and St Guy's and St Thomas' in London charge 39p a minute and 49p a minute off-peak - while Oxford University Hospitals cost 51p a minute.

The cost also depends on your phone provider. A Lovemoney investigation found that calling one hospital on a BT phone cost 50p a minute, while from a Virgin Media phone cost 51p a minute plus a 15p connection charge.

And to add insult to injury, when you call in on these lines you have to listen to a long automated message - of around 90 seconds. Lovemoney highlighted that a great deal of this message is pointless - such as telling you that it might take a while for the patient to answer if they are in the middle of being examined.

What can you do?

Hospedia told the Daily Mail that very few people actually call these phones - and that by far the majority of calls are outbound. Those who are staying in hospital and have bought a package with free phone calls may therefore be wise to contact their loved ones regularly and impress upon them that they should only call back in an emergency.

Alternatively, in many instances they may be able to call your mobile phone. The rules on mobile phones in hospitals were relaxed in 2009, but vary between hospitals and wards - so it's worth checking before you go into hospital.

If your phone is likely to invade the privacy of people on your ward or interfere with equipment, you may be restricted to using it in communal areas, reception, day rooms or non-clinical areas on wards. You may also be asked to keep it on silent so as not to disturb other patients.