About… The PatientLine Scam

I have been meaning to write this for a while, both from when I was having my transplant, and I was again prompted during my stay for the mega-steroid session – prompted on that occasion by the nursing staff. So here it is!

What is PatientLine? Well, a look at their website here shows that they claim to be “… the market leader in bedside communication and entertainment services.” A bold claim indeed,so what actually is it and how do patients benefit?

The PatientLine unit itself is a natty little flat screen monitor, mounted on a hefty wall bracket. On either side of the display is a handset, one looking like a telephone handset (which it is) and the other looking like a wired remote control unit (which again, it is). Underneath are a pair of plug-in headphones. This unit delivers radio, television and bedside telephone services, for incoming and outgoing calls to the bedside. In addition, it gives internet services and a range of computer games that you can while away the time with.

To use the unit you have to register with the help centre, via the unit and once activated an account is opened, credited with 20 pence, and the radio is enabled. Among the services offered are a free notification service where they will inform any number of people by telephone of your individual telephone number, (using a recorded message) and a telephone answering service (voicemail). All fine and dandy, especially as they tell you that outgoing calls cost only 10p/minute, less that BT’s phone box charges. Brilliant!

Ah – not so. You make your first call, after all you have just settled in, and you dial the number, it rings, and suddenly you notice that your free credit has gone! Strange, but as you put the phone down (no reply) you expect it to return. Alas no, those friendly people at PatientLine charge a minimum of 20p per call, and the charging starts from when the called number rings, NOT when it is answered! Good, eh!

Oh well, you can always use the notification servivce and get the family to call you. True, but wait – it is an 07xx number, reserved for mobiles and other telephone services. Now your loved ones want a quick chat, probably no more than 15 minutes to see how you are – that will cost them about £7.50!! Yes, calls to a PatientLine number cost just under £30/hour, or 49p/minute. No wonder they want to offer and answerphone and get as many people notified as possible! Still, they can always call off-peak – it will ‘only’ cost just under £24/hour at 39p/min! Pass me my mobile please! Oh yes, you won’t be surprised to learn that when you do get through you have to listen to a chunk of pre-recorded twaddle (about a minute) before you are connected – another nice little earner. No wonder (according to the chairman’s report for 2006) half their revenue is generated from incoming calls

Ah yes, mobile phones. Well, the PatientLine screen, when it isn’t doing anything else, gives dire warnings about patient privacy and respect on the ward, and the dangers opf mobile phones. It is true that in some sensitive areas (ITU, HDU or special diagnostic areas) mobile phones could interfere with electronic equipment, but on a general ward, unlikely, and certainly at Guy’s there seemed to be no problems using mobile ‘phones on the ward. And while a loud, ‘amusing’ ring tone at 11pm at night is a tad irritating, the ‘specially configured handset’ that patient line use is almost as disturbing – so perhaps they are more concerned with protecting their revenue streams than with patient safety. One good thing is that if you move beds, the service and number can follow you round, so long as you call the help centre – but then, so does my mobile!

So that’s the telephone side. What about TV? Well, you get 30 minutes of free TV per day, starting at 8 in the morning, whether you want it or not – the unit switches itself on – possibly to tempt you to a bit more during the day. How much is that? A snip at only £24.50/week or £3.50/day! If you are under 16, those charges are waived, and if you are over 60, it drops to £1.70. Still not cheap. Fortunately the ward I was on had a TV room.

So we’ll try playing a game.. thank you, that will be 30p/game played! Internet? Sounds good and will pass away the time – but not at £2.40 an hour – minimum charge 10p for 2.5 minutes!

Future services promised include the ability to order your hospital food from the unit which (to quote) “will make hospital food more fun” What??? The Words “Hospital Food” and “Fun” are mutually exclusive! What planet are they on? The only food you might want to order is from the adverts that are displayed (and from which PatientLine get more revenue)

And how do you pay for this service? Well, you can buy prepaid cards from handy wall mounted dispensers, but beware, no refund on part used cards, or use a credit/debit card when unused credit is paid back.

In fact the only thing that is really free is the radio service, and I wonder how much longer that will last, as a quick hunt round the website (not from a patientLine unit!) shows that they have been suffereing increasing losses since 2000. However, they are still expanding, looking to rip off patients in Europe and the US.

Now, call me a cynic if you will, but it doesn’t sound like much of a service to me.

I must stress that I am NOT advocating the use of mobile phones where they are prohibited, but look very carefully before using PatientLine, which to my mind exploits people when they are not at their best.

11 Comments »

11 Responses to “About… The PatientLine Scam”

  1. ??? on 26 Mar 2007 at 20:35 #

    I would like to make a few points on the Patientline System. I am a customer care advisor at the call centre. First of all i would like to say that there is a 20p connection charge but if you read the sign on the wards and in some rooms you will see that they inform you of the 20p connection charge. Next you say about the incoming call charges, when you listen to the message played before you are connected to the patient it tells you the charges for that line. Therfore if you do not wish to pay for that you can hang up at that point. It is not patientline who make up the call charges it is Ofcom so there for you can take that up with them. We are working with Ofcom and are doing some trials in some hospitals trying to cut the price of calls and shorten the message, But we are a private company and are not funded by the NHS in anyway, we need to try and make a profit from somewhere. We have been in hospitals for around 10years and have never made a profit.

  2. John on 28 Mar 2007 at 18:34 #

    Might I just start by saying “Thank god they have at last lifted the Mobile Phone ban in hospitals as we can maybe look forward to Patientline Free Future”. In response to ??? from Patientline (Good Start, No Name) having had much involvement as in paying the equivalent of your working careers’ salary to Patientline over the years you will understand my annoyance at your general ignorance in defending this despicable treatment of Patients. We have had no choice but to use your service as the nurses on the ward have refused to inform all but Immediate family as in spouses or usually one designated child of the patients well being etc.. as they have been told by Patientline that action will be taken against them if they undermine their buisness. The same goes for patients bringing in their own TV’s etc. The other godsend is that in this day and age where even the BBC and ITV etc are having to drastically reduce their phone charges patientline are sure surely in line for some pretty close scrutiny. Good!!! As for your feeble attempt at trying to make out you are not really in it for the money, “We have been in hospitals for around 10years and have never made a profit”, well you will find that this is down to Bad Management by patientline and not through any intention to do good. Maybe like the Banks, i should write asking for all the over charging to be returned over all these years as i have the many phone bills to prove it??

    See Ya!!

  3. Peter on 29 Mar 2007 at 7:19 #

    Interesting to see (from a general search on Google) that the ban on mobile phones was instigated by PatientLine in exchange for the installation to protect revenues, rather than for technical reasons, so my comment in the last line of the original post was rather nearer the mark than I thought. I note too that the initial PatientLine installations was subsididsed by the Government… Make of that what you will.

  4. John on 04 Apr 2007 at 7:48 #

    Interesting viewing on BBC Breakfast this morning. Patientline having put up the cost of calling out from your bed from 10p min – 26p min, nearly 60% increase. The justification from Charlotte Reed a Patientline spokesperson was that they needed to recoup the £1 million invested in installing their One Armed Bandits, i mean terminals in each hospital and that they had never made a profit, in fact they are £150 million in debt, SHAME!!! They are however reducing the cost of the TV/Radio side from £3.50 – £2.80 A DAY!!!! Not even the Rip Off Sky TV charge this much for the Full Package of a Million and One channels compared to Patientlines 8 or 9 of which 5 are for children, which in my opinion was a ploy on their part. If children were to see that they can get things like CITV and Trouble etc etc they will then nag their parents to pay for it for them won’t they?

    Ah well Rant Over for now, MAYBE!! I’m just glad that due to the remarkable reception on the Digital Freeview TV Card on the Laptop and the trusty Mobile Phone which are the first things to be packed ready to go into Heath Towers, Patientline have no longer got their hands in my pockets.

    One other small point, sorry, it kind of makes a mockery of what Mr or Mrs Anonymous above from Patientscam says about, well pretty much everything realy don’t you think?

    See Ya!!

  5. Peter on 04 Apr 2007 at 7:57 #

    I heard that report too on Radio 4 – in fact I was going to comment on it in a post! The hike in phone prices is incredible – although for a one minute call, when they charge a 10p connection charge goes up from 20p to 26p. In fairness, I think that TV for under 16s is free. I must look at the patientLine web site to see exactly what has changed. (Just looked – as of 9am today – 4 April, it hasn’t been updated)

  6. Bleeper on 07 Apr 2007 at 18:34 #

    Patientline are not making huge profits from Patients, they are not that clever. The company’s shares are currently valued at less than 2p (and still falling) and is making huge losses. By the Chairman’s own admission the company can not survive any longer than 12 months on current performance.

    So what did Patienline’s Directors and Managers (who put their staff under great pressure to sell the company’s services to sick people) do last week ? They make matters worse by a botched ‘restructruturing’ of prices.

    The recent ‘restructuring of the prices of their products includes the abolition of the reduced rate for patients over 65, who will now have to pay the full daily rate of £2.90 and not £1.70. Patientline also increased the price of outgoing calls from the bedside from 10 p per min to 26p and introduced a minimum call charge of 40p (previously 20p) for outgoing calls which is charged regardles of whether an outgoing call is answered or not. The press release issued by Patienline last week was very enconomical with the truth.

    So long as prisoners receive free TV and sick people have to pay for their TV viewing there will always be, understandably, complaints and only Politicians can put that right. Howvever, so long as Patientline operate with insensitivity, faulty equipment and causing great stress at the bedside they will continue to to be rightly critisised.

    Is there any wonder that Patienlines staff sickness levels are so high we are trying to give a good service under great pressure.

    ‘Bleeper’ – A member of Patientline Staff.

  7. John on 08 Apr 2007 at 11:36 #

    Well Bleeper, I sympathise with you having to probably deal with no end of hassle on the phone etc each day as it is surely not a job I would like. The whole situation is dire and in my opinion it will actually get worse as the year goes on with Patientline trying to get in as much money before they finally collapse into liquidation. Their treatment of people is deplorable. I missed the part about the rise in the Minimum Connection Charge to another whopping 40p. In this day and age where the trend is for people such as Banks, TV Companies etc etc are having to justify the charges they make for things it would be interesting to hear how Patientline can justify charging 40p for just ringing a number. Imagine if it with say, BT doing this, there would be murder.

    See Ya!!

  8. Smugger on 11 Apr 2007 at 9:18 #

    I actually work with patientline. The complaints we receive are valid points as patient i hospital do not need the stress of faulty bedside units with no staff to visit sometimes for 3 days or more. This causes great stress to patients. If more patientline staff were in place in hospitals, the problems that patients occur would be able to dealt with quicker, therefore reducing the stress of a stay in hospital. Patients pay £2.90 per day for use and quite rightly expect units to be in working order

  9. Bleeper on 11 Apr 2007 at 18:39 #

    An important point that I missed when I last posted is that the the reduced rate TV concession available to patients after 14 days has has been removed by Patientline. So the cost of viewing TV for long tern patients will go not as Patientline are saying in the media, down. When the new rates take effect Patientline will be putting their staff in an intolerable position.

  10. Bleeper on 11 Apr 2007 at 18:42 #

    Regarding above – it should read:

    So the cost of viewing TV for long tern patients will go UP not as Patientline are saying in the media, down. When the new rates take effect Patientline will be putting their staff in an intolerable position.

  11. Peter on 12 Apr 2007 at 19:58 #

    Thank you for that, Bleeper. I have started a new blog http://www.paytientcrime.org.uk and will transfer those comments to it. I am now closing this post for new comments – please use the new blog for comments about PatientLine, or any other issues of a similar nature!