Patientline goes into administration: Few tears shed
My posts on Patientline – dating back as far as 2005 – received numerous comments complaining about the overpriced nature of the system, as well as the poor customer service users received, yet I’ve always been one of the first to defend the system against criticisim of high prices: That particular problem has come as a result of poor contractual negotiations on the part of NHS Trusts countrywide.
The contracts negotiated vary from the flexible terms in which the systems are cutsomised and integrated into the hospitals IT system, to crazily imposing terms whereby the units’ screens can’t even be switched off during daylight hours. The NHS Trusts who allowed the units to be installed must have been aware that this private company was primarily interested in profits, yet allowed the installation to go ahead regardless: In some cases, through apparently give-away contracts.
The company spent hundreds of millions of pounds providing expensive equipment to patient bedsides across the country – replacing simple TVs which used to exist on wards. They then attempted to charge up to £3.50 per day for individuals to watch their souped up TVs, and charged up to 49p per minute for people to phone the units.
This represented unacceptably poor value to hospital patients – after all, who wants to pay £24.50 per week for Freeview? – and has ultimately resulted in poor value for the NHS: Essentially, patients are getting much the same service provided by the TV in the corner of the room and the portable payphone for many times the cost.
It’s easy to see the apparent advantage to NHS Trusts – able to boast about an apparent improvement in service whilst neglecting to mention the increased cost to patients – yet it’s hard to see how, at those prices, investors didn’t see Patientline’s business plan as critically flawed before it even got off the ground.
Private companies are, by definition, interested primarily in profits – not in the best interests of patients. This is the fundamental problem with PFI projects in the NHS, and that the government fails to see that time and again shows either great naivety or great incompetence. I suspect I know which.
The ghost of Patientline is rising, pheonix-like, in the form of Hospedia, who are attempting to become the monopoly provider of such services – and oversee the spread of these terminals yet further. By investing a further £12m in improved services and cutting prices, Hospedia hopes to make a go of this business. I’m not convinced it’s possible… I guess only time will tell.
» Image Credit: Patientline publicity image