Coronavirus: Hospital phone charges 'scandalous'

By Michael Buchanan
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

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image captionIrene Simpkin was charged more than £11 for a call to her mother in Southport and Formby District General Hospital

Families have called on a company providing a phone service for hospital patients to cut their charges during the Covid-19 crisis.

Irene Simpkin, who was charged more than £11 for calling her 87-year-old mother amid a ban on visitors, said Hospedia was "very greedy".

The justice secretary has asked Hospedia to temporarily drop its charges while a Labour MP described the situation as "scandalous".

The company is yet to respond.

Ms Simpkin's 87-year-old mother Odile has been in Southport and Formby District General Hospital for almost a fortnight after suffering multiple pelvis and hip fractures in a fall.

'Flipping outrageous'

On Saturday, Ms Simpkins made a 16-minute call to her and was charged £11.33.

"I thought that it was flipping outrageous, just horrendous. I just think it's very, very greedy," she said.

"There are so many people making concessions, why do these companies continue to cash in?

"While all this is going on, can they not just make some sort of a deal where they cut those costs?"

image copyrightFamily handout
image captionIrene Simpkin said it was "outrageous" to be charged £11.33 for a 16-minute call to her mother, pictured

Hospedia's website says its operates in more than 130 NHS sites. It offers TV units, which attract a daily fee, and premium rate telephones at a patient's bedside. According to its latest accounts, profits increased nearly six-fold last year to more than £2.5m.

Sophie Connolly, from Runcorn, Cheshire, was charged £1.72 for making a three-minute call to her 87-year-old grandfather Alan in Warrington Hospital, which has also stopped visiting for relatives.

She said she would "love to phone my granddad every day but I simply can't afford to."

When she called Hospedia to complain, she said she was "made to feel that it was a bargain".

'Vital' service

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland tweeted on Tuesday that he had written to Hospedia requesting it "temporarily drop their charges, for patients affected by the current coronavirus situation."

Rosie Cooper, the Labour MP for West Lancashire and a member of the Health Select Committee, said: "It is scandalous that, at a time of a pandemic with thousands of patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus, that relatives and friends can be charged a fortune to phone the hospital and speak with their loved ones.

"Businesses across the country and in various sectors have made changes to reflect this period battling the pandemic yet Hospedia seem content for the public to be charged as much as £10 for a call to a patient due to their use of premium rate numbers."

The Patients' Association said the phone is vitally important to many patients.

"With so many other companies making content and services available for free or at reduced rates, we would very much hope that providers of communications services to patients in hospital will take a generous and compassionate approach to their charges."

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