/ Health, Technology

Lost patience with expensive hospital entertainment?

Wallet examined by stethoscope

Sometimes hospital entertainment systems are all patients have to keep them occupied. But the cost of using these systems, which combine a TV and phone, could put many of us off using them all together.

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to be stuck in hospital recently you may have had access to a ‘bedside entertainment system’ – a combined telephone and TV set that also offers internet, radio and even games for patients.

Prices vary across different hospitals, but you could expect to pay between £1 for an hour of credit, or £20 for twelve days.

And although phone calls out shouldn’t cost any more than 10p, if your family or friends want to give you a call while you’re languishing in bed, they could be charged as much as 49p a minute. You could phone your long lost uncle in Australia for less than that!

Vulnerable hit by big costs

As for watching telly, since you may not be lucky enough to know how long your hospital stay will be, you could be stuck paying as you go, which could rack up big costs over time.

What’s more, your hours of credit will start being eaten up as soon as you start watching, but switching the telly off won’t pause your credit for later use. No, you’ll have to buy even more credit next time.

When I broke my arm and spent a week in hospital without TV, I was bored to tears by the end of it. But there are examples of patients in much worse situations where the problem is even more acute.

If you’re suffering from a serious condition, for instance, you could be stuck in hospital for months where TV might be your only company. Plus, you’ll want support from your loved ones over the phone, but being struck by a hefty phone bill won’t keep spirits up.

It seems unfair that people who are at their most vulnerable are being forced to shell out for simple home comforts that can make a stay in hospital less daunting.

No obvious solution

But what should we as patients expect in this age of cuts? As a recent Watchdog investigation reported, the private companies that maintain these services aren’t making the huge profits you might anticipate.

The problem is a little complex, but when the systems were introduced in the early 2000s both the NHS and these private companies thought there’d be enough demand to get prices down. However, with the rise of mobile phone use, companies have struggled to break even and claim they can’t afford to make it cheaper than it already is.

The NHS and Ofcom investigations couldn’t find an obvious solution, but the companies have said costs could be brought down if extra services, like letting patients order hospital food through the systems, were subsidised by the hospitals.

Have you or someone else been shocked by the price of these hospital entertainment systems? How would you feel if hospitals paid for some of the cost to reduce the price for patients? Maybe there isn’t even a place for them in this age of iPhones and laptops.


When one of my disabled children was in hospital we fell for the ‘entertainment system’ and found it a real pain to get working. The set up screens appeared to simply loop round and round until in desperation we kept ringing the help desk to sort it out. Its cunning combination of high prices and stupid menu designs makes for a fraught introduction to the system. In the event my daughter was able to use her mobile and we organised for family to attend for much of the time she was there, so never used the entertainment system to call her. In the end petrol and parking cost more than the ‘entertainment system’.
The user hostile pricing and set up does nothing to popularise the system so it is little wonder that it is not the gold mine that the investors hoped it would be.
I knew one of the early senior members of one of the system companies; this helps me to understand why it is so user hostile.


Thanks for getting in touch,

It sounds like these entertainment services were much more of a hinderance than a help for you and your daughter when she was in hospital!

Though i’m interested to hear that you found petrol and parking to have the biggest impact on your wallet. It seems that though many people find these systems a costly annoyance, they’re hardly the most important aspect of one’s stay in hospital. I wonder if this is the case? Especially as many people like yourself make do without the services and use personal mobile phones


I think what gets most people’s backs up is that so many ‘bolt-on’ services offered by our hospitals (like the ones mentioned above, car parking, using cash points, etc) appear to be charged extortionately. I don’t think anyone would begrudge paying for TV or phone so long as it was charged reasonably. This is fair play Britain – but there doesn’t seem to be any sense of fair play in any of this.

Technically, it can’t be too difficult to provide a handful of the most popular channels to each set.
And it can’t be too difficult to provide a simple phone service – most offices have these so I don’t understand why hospitals and their providers think this is incredibly expensive.

I suspect some hospital managers are trying to have too much fun being little Lord Sugars and trying to run hospitals too much like businesses. All very easy when you have a captive audience that doesn’t really want to be there.


My Grandad’s been in hospital a lot over the last month. We set up Patientline for him, but he can’t use it as he can barely see to use the phone, isn’t interested in the TV and basically forgets everything you tell him on how to use it. Plus when you call in you’re have to go through about 1 and half minutes before it actually rings the phone (that was 67p from my mobile to test it was working and so he’d know what it sounds like. However, he seems to just ignore it when we ring anyway!)

On a positive note, for him to call (which he can when someone does it for him) is free if it’s a UK landline. And once the service is set up, we can call him (not that he answers) even if he’s not got any credit on it.

If it was me in hospital, I’d make good use of it, as it had a good range of TV channels (though some films were extra). £10 for 3 days is not cheap, but that versus me going completely bonkers (unless I was too out of it to care) would be money well spent. Just hoping won’t have to take advantage though!

Gilly says:
15 January 2011

I spent sometime in hospital and was more than grateful for the use of their phone/tv system. However, I have to agree that the way it works is quite mind bogglingly unfair, particularly to the patients loved ones who ring in. When someone rings you it does take ages for them to be connected (all of which is costing them some ridiculous amounts) – they are told if they stay on the line for a specific time the patient will be given free time on their tv allowance. My son rang me every day for quite a long conversation and was always pleased to have given me the freetime tv – this unfortunately starts to run immediately and if you don’t watch the tv at that time you lose the free time given. All my family were absolutely shocked at the amount it had cost them to phone me whilst I was in hospital for a period of 10 days – their phone bills were astronomically more expensive than normal. It was an absolutely wonderful lifeline to me the patient however. I don’t know what could be done to make it work better but do not think the NHS should pay for it.


The first comment reminded me that it was a bit of a pain to set up – you have to call customer services to register the person (that was about 5 mins on hold), then it’s not exactly user friendly to register it on the system. No way Grandad would be able to do that himself!

Verity says:
23 December 2010

When my elderly mother was in hospital recently, I paid for the overbed TV system so that she could see her favourite programmes. Shortly after I left her, she was moved into another ward and the TV system didn’t follow her, despite numerous phone calls to ward and helpline. After 10 days in hospital she had never seen any TV programmes, nor did I ever receive a credit for the amount I paid up front and which she was never able to use.
I don’t mind paying for TV etc but when patients are moved between wards, systems MUST be in place for the pre-payment TV system to follow them. In my mother’s case no one on the wards could give me any information or guidance on how to arrange.


why is it not possible to give hospital inpatients the same deal on televisions that prison inmates receive.