Exorbitant charges were levied on relatives and friends of patients towards phoning them at their beds in hospitals. A study conducted by patient representative forums has called for reductions in the phone charges as well as relaxing bans on personal mobile phone use.
In one case it was found that charges as high as 1.50 pounds a minute were being charged on a calle, although Patient line, the provider of the hospital bedside phone service says its top rate is 49 pence a minute.
'Whilst many of the patients we spoke to welcome the convenience of the system, this was countered by a very strong belief that the charges were exorbitant,' said Derek Easton of the East Kent Hospitals Patient and Public Involvement Forum.
He added, 'While evidence has shown that mobile phones do not cause problems with medical equipment, hospital Trusts often prohibit their use giving the patient no choice but to use the expensive bedside systems.'
Patient line and Premier Under provide phone services through an NHS-led scheme in the hospitals wherein the providers invest in providing the phone units to the hospital at no cost to the hospital. Later the providers are allowed to earn a return for their investment by levying charges for the use of the phones.
Investigations by the Office of Communications (Ofcom) have revealed that these exorbitant charges for incoming calls had resulted from 'a complex web of Government policy and agreements between the providers and the NHS'. Following this both sides were requested to negotiate for a fairer pricing scheme.
In addition Ofcom has also found that contracts with Patientline and Premier included a clause in which hospitals have agreed to prohibit the use of mobiles on their premises, 'in circumstances where it is lawful and there is proper reason to do so'.
Till date the ban over the use of mobile phones within hospital premises exists on the grounds of probable interference with sensitive medical equipment.
Following this investigation the Department of Health plans to review the charges paid towards calling bedside phone units. 'The latest advice we had is that there is a very low risk in relation to modern day phones and them interfering with medical equipment,' said Mike Phelan, the hospital's director of operations.
'Quite often you have patients in clinics who probably need to phone home quickly to get decisions made, and not to use mobile phones in those situations seems silly.'