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Patientline goes into administration: Few tears shed

Patientline Bedside System

Patientline Bedside System

I note with interest that Patientline, provider of controversial bedside phone-cum-television-cum-internet consoles in NHS hospitals, went into administration on Friday.

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

This post was filed under: Health, News and Comment, Politics, , , .

Diary for 27th July 2008

Mr Brown’s current favourite refrain is that he is “Getting on with the job”. When will he realise that many want him to do the opposite? «

Carol Vorderman’s treatment by the makers of Countdown is shocking, and I don’t share their confidence that the show will go on without her. «

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, , , , , .

Summer Books: Never Push… by Guy Browning

Never Push When It Says Pull

Never Push When It Says Pull

The fifth book I’ve picked for my Summer Books series is perhaps the most summery of the bunch so far: Never Push When it Says Pull: Small Rules for Little Problems by Guy Browning.

Guy Browning is one of a very few newspaper columnists whose pieces genuinely make me laugh out loud, thanks to their absurdist satirical view of everyday life. Browning’s How to… column in the Guardian is one of the joys of my Saturday mornings, and this book is the second collection of these columns – a follow-up of sorts to the previously reviewed Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade.

The fact that I find each individual column laugh-out-loud funny means that the book is like a little bundle of hilarity, which, whilst good for me, is perhaps not such a good thing if you happen to live with me or sit next to me on public transport – unless, of course, you like the sound of apparently inexplicable hysterical laughter at random moments, and public book readings from some seemingly crazed idiot.

Unfortunately, like most things in life, the columns lose all humour when read aloud by someone who can’t stifle their manic giggling, and so it’s crucial that you, dear reader, become the first person you know to read this book. And, surely, this summer provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy some light humour.

Alternatively, it’s the perfect book for reading at random, in odd moments – after all, each column is only about 500 words, and each is an individual nugget of joy. Read it when you’re stressed at work and need some light relief, read it while relaxing on the beach, or read it on the toilet. All are decent options…

This is the first of my Summer Books which both I and everybody I’ve shared it with have really enjoyed – so I guess it’s probably a pretty safe summer bet.

» Never Push When it Says Pull: Small Rules for Little Problems by Guy Browning is available now in the sjhoward.co.uk shop

An earlier version of this review was posted here on sjhoward.co.uk in October 2005. It has been extensively rewritten for the ‘Summer Books’ series of reviews published on sjhoward.co.uk and Gazette Live.

This post was filed under: Summer Books, , , .

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