Hospital ripoff 

1 July 2007

I had the occasion recently to go into hospital for an operation. In fact, it was the second attempt to remove a lump on my vocal cords which had grown back after previous laser removal in March.

So here I was in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Just for the day: I had to be there from 7am and expected the operation after lunch; all being well I would be able to go home that evening. And as before, incidentally, I was looked after wonderfully by the nursing and other medical staff.

Last time I’d been in I had noticed – and in fact used during its free period – the ‘Patientline’ in-bed entertainment system which consisted of a reasonable-sized LCD flat-panel, built-in really nasty speakers and rather better headphones (why can you have speakers on the entertainment system and not use a cell phone? Aha, we’ll come to that), and two handsets, one a phone handset and the other a remote plus a mini keyboard for internet use. Because yes, you could access the Net with these things.

We were given free TV viewing between 8 and 9am, but if you wanted more than that, you had to buy a card from one of the vending machines situated a surprising distance away from my ward. Last time I’d been in I’d relied on my iPod, but this time I thought I’d give it a whirl. There was a special offer – 24 hours of TV for just 2.90. So I toddled off to a machine to buy a card.

Well, the cheapest card was £3.50. It wasn’t that you bought the £3.50 card for £2.90; you paid £3.50 and got a card for £3.50. Hmmm. Where did the special offer come in? Well, buying the card, plugging it into the slot under the display and calling the Call Centre to get set up revealed that in fact I had a 60p credit. I couldn’t get it back, but I could use it for “other services”. The “other services” were evident: you could make phone calls. Outgoing cost 26p a minute. Calls to the bedside cost 39p per minute off-peak and 49p at all other times. Ouch. Minimum charge 50p. Ouch again. So I could make a whole one call with my special discount. Wow! I was evidently going to use my cell phone, despite notices forbidding such use, presumably to ensure that Patientline maintains a captive market that can’t make calls any other way. Luckily the medical staff had better things to do than police cellphone usage.

TV quality was ropey to say the least, with a highly truncated choice of channels compared with anything other than an analogue TV. No red button (you were invited to push it but nothing happened). Distorted audio (especially on the speakers) and only somewhat better in headphones. Variable picture quality between poor and downright atrocious.

But… Internet access was included! I immediately decided to catch up on my learning of the Linden Scripting Language by surfing to the LSLWiki, a nice text-only (mainly) repository of programming and scripting knowledge. Surfing, if you can call it that, was at about dialup speed however, on a crappy Windows CE browser. Eventually my page came up… and the machine hung: no response to any buttons of any kind, including accessing radio or TV. I tried calling the call centre with the operator button and I just got a long tone. After continuously re-pressing the button for almost 20 minutes I finally got a ringing tone and eventually reached the call centre.

Users of a Sky+ box will know that if they get a problem there are several things the support people can advise you to do over the phone, either using standard menus or sometimes codes that are not quite so obvious to reset the box or otherwise get it going again. Virtually always you will get a successful result unless the box is really screwed. Not so Patientline. There is no reset key combination; no way of returning to a standard menu; nothing. All they could do was to send an on-site rep.

Forty minutes later, said rep turned up. It turned out that the bed next to mine had an issue too – a completely ddifferent one: so much for system reliability – and what she had to do was to reach up and unscrew the front of the the box above my head, find the power switch (a standard lightswitch just above the box but hidden behind the ppanel so you couldn’t do it yourself) and power cycle the box (not that easy as she was quite short and had to stretch). Bloody stupid. No wonder Patientline is so expensive – that plus the rampant profiteering on the charging structure. Then the box took almost 15 minutes to boot. True 1970s technology.

This is a simply ridiculous system. Such lack of quality is not worth the money and the call charges are simply an absurd profiteering ripoff.

Renationalise the whole damn lot of ’em, that’s what I say. And take your ccellphone with you next time you’re in hospital, put it on “silent” and ignore the caveats.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Richard G Elen Contact More by me