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Tuesday 2nd
posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

HEALTH service privateers are ripping off patients and relatives by charging extortionate prices for making phone calls and watching TV, figures from hospitals published today reveal.

One privateer, Hospedia, screwed more than £20 million out of patients and relatives last year through its NHS contracts to give patients access to a phone and telly.

Callers pay up to 50p a minute to speak to a patient via costly 070 numbers.

The call starts with an unnecessary 70-second recorded message, ensuring that the cash till starts rattling even before the caller is put through. Useless information in the recorded message includes telling callers that they have a relative in hospital.

Privateers’ charges for access to TV and the internet cost £17.50 for two days at Newcastle General Hospital, £15 at Ipswich Hospital, and £35 for five days in other hospitals. Sky Sports can cost an extra £10 on top per day. Hospedia has contracts with 150 hospitals nationwide.

The racket was first exposed in 2006 by regulator Ofcom. Three years ago the government pledged to end it, but nothing has been done.

Liz McAnulty of pressure group the Patients Association said: “It is unacceptable for people calling someone in hospital to be charged heavily for 70 seconds before they even get through.”

Macmillan Cancer Support charity head Lynda Thomas said calls to cancer sufferers from relatives “make a huge difference” to patients.

“But if relatives have to pay extortionate amounts to make these calls, they may not call, cut it short, or shoulder the burden of these high charges at a time when the whole family may be struggling financially,” she said.