/ 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.

Mike Brayshaw says:
8 July 2011

Telephoning a patient via Premier Group’s bedside service presents you with almost two minutes of recorded message – which you’ve usually heard before – prior to offering to connect to the required extension, which (understandably) doesn’t always connect. At 50p/minute that’s a rip-off.

I spent 9 days at the start of this year waiting in one hospital for a cardiac op in another 50 miles away. i could not be given more than half a day’s notice of transfer so enede up spending much more buying small units of time and although the second hospital had the same supplier, there’s no transferability. The machine selling cards serving the ward in the first hospital remained broken for the entire 9 days. repairs to my TV took days to complete. Picture quality was abysmal and the number of channels was was limited to the old terrestrial ones and there was no headset on arrival. My daughter brought in my portable dvd player from home which was brilliant. The whole system is a very good example of Rip-off Britain.

Chris says:
15 July 2011

Edinburgh University Hospital found TV to be expensive following 16 day stay, very poor quality but maybe a bit sensitive to the sound & picture quality working for the BBC. I preferred my MP3 player with larger style headphones to block out all the alarms and noises on the ward.
Telephone. I used my mobile, just like one of the special mobiles used by Doctors (sic) on silent vibrate mode.
Note there is a mobile phone base station on top of Carlisle Hospital!

Maggie J says:
15 September 2011

I stayed in hospital in Exeter in 2008 and used the system. I went in for a few days and ended up staying for a month, so it was a lifeline for mental health. I didn’t have a problem in setting it up, but I am a technophile!). I was moved around during my stay, had 4 different beds and each time the system followed me round without any problems. It looks as if one of the biggest issues is that the reliability and costs vary across the country. I am going in again (same hospital) for a knee replacement next week and will certainly use the system, in spite of the costs. May not be a popular comment, but people in hospital do save some money by being provided with free food and maybe using less gas/electricity and petrol while in hospital (I estimated I saved nearly £300 in 2008)

I work for a bedside company and believe me we know how expensive it can get so for patients who use the tv a large ammunt of the time we try and give free tv but it does rely on patients telling us as with 400+ tvs to manage and four people do that you can imagine how hard it is to do.

£12 for three days doesnt strike me as super expensive as you get three days TV and 20 channels to watch and free radio and onsite staff to fix it (and i want to be paid for my work) and then if you compare that to say a cinema ticket which last time i went was £9 quid for say an average film of two hours then it isnt that expensive.

We also dont make a lot of money off the system despite what people believe on a good day we can make a pound per terminal. Its expensive for us to run for example: £2000 for a new terminal and £3000 for a new arm so anything we make is swolowed by repairs, cost of providing for radio for free, free childrens tv, staff costs. although we could make it cheaper for alot of people it still wont use it as they think it should be free, so would be making a loss and then if we put the price up to cover the costs again then we would get it in the neck (and ive had my fair share of abuse, threats and one bloke actually tried to physically attack me over it) for putting it up. But if we went under and there was no TV people would complain that there was no entertainment.

Hopsitals did have free tvs in the wards in a day room (a few remain) but these can only be used by patients who are mobile and if one patient gets there (as my MUm found out when she went to hospital) they then monoplise the TV and ive seen fights break out over the tv. So its better to pay a little bit more and at £4.90 (not even two coffees from starbucks) a day get your own personal TV and radio and phone than have either nothing at all or something only people who are mobile can use and then only if you get there first.

Chris says:
10 October 2011

It’s not only the cost of hospital entertainment. The quality was very poor of both the sound any vision, having worked for the BBC for 31 years I know I may be a bit pedantic over quality.
I also lost credit when the moved me from one ward to another.
The internet that was promised on the adds did not work.
I found entertainment far better with my laptop and mp3 player and would have loved a wifi or an ethernet connection.
I also had a special (not) mobile phone (like the Doctors and administrators have and use all the time) to make phone calls, left in vibrate mode only.

my adice for that is bring your phone head phones in as often the headphones have been there for a while as its impossible to swap over headphones reguarly so some get missed. as for visual its often to do with viewing angles, hospital beds are a nightmare they are almost imposible to get right and those bay windows let in alot of light and that greys the screen. It also comes through one areial and so the further away you are some signals get weaker and so the level set by a channel can not help. BBc has a strong signal whereas ITV is weaker. As for the lost credit and internet thats something you would have to speak to the operator about but its frustrating when you have a complaint a week later about something after they went home but that person never told you about the problem while in hospital. I mean maybe you did and they didnt respond which is wrong and i hate it when some of my collegues are less than responsive.

They are introducing wifi a couple of the companies have it in hospital already but i dont think its nationwide

We didn’t find it easy to set up – and there weren’t any earphones or literature. The hospital staff don’t have the time to deal with this.

We found that the questions asked over the phone eg about home address were intrusive and thought it was not a good idea to have to answer these so that the whole ward can hear particularly with an elderly patient. The bundles were unnecessarily complicated and phoning in was far too expensive.

We also thought it was poorly designed in that many of the people who would want to use it are elderly and the buttons were far too small. In the ward for the elderly there were a lot of beds that did not have a TV and we were desperate to get a sports mad 90 year old who had been in hospital too long and was becoming depressed one to watch an international sports competition. It took days of phoning the TV company and asking the staff and in the end contacting the Patients Advice and Liaison Service (which now seems to incorporate Complaints) while the competition got closer and closer and nothing happened. Eventually it did happen and the patient did show an interest and I believe it did help with recovery.

We had one patient in hospital who could not see or feel the buttons properly and another who could not hear it when it rang. Why on earth does it not have a vibrate function? The people who could make best use of this would be those who are not used to their own mobiles or mp3 players.

I find it interesting that it is free in prisons. I think that entertainment and food are necessary to get well and should be part of the plan for getting well and leaving hospital as quickly as possible. The situation is ridiculously disjointed and I believe patients would get well quicker and leave hospital sooner if more attention was given to their complete wellbeing. (This includes being able to have your hair done and have your toenails cut when you have been in hospital for nearly six months – as well as enough physio and supervised practice walking to have confidence to go it alone. You’d have thought they would sort out the toenails when they are trying to get you walking again wouldn’t you?)

Since we see staff in the hospital using mobile phones we know that in only a few places is it important that they not be used in case they upset machines. I believe the blanket ban was to increase the use of the hospital entertainment system to increase revenue.

We feel that we have bought half the car park with the amount we have spent in parking.

In another hospital where they had just a television system these were attached to the wall at the foot of the bed and unfortunately were too small and it was impossible to adjust them well enough to see the screen (too much reflection).

Some hospitals have cordless phones so that if a relative phones in they can speak to the patient.

I think that we should do our utmost to make sure that all our friends and relatives can use a mobile phone so that we can keep in contact by text if they go into hospital. It makes such a lot of difference if you can bring in things needed to make patients more comfortable in hospital eg food!
Teach your Granny and Grandad to text!

Delaine Colquhoun says:
24 October 2012

My son has recently had a stay about five months give or take in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and being from the Glasgow end of the country are being hit by petrol, parking and TV/phone packages. In my opinion the cost of the packages for TV/phone are astronomical for the service rendered. The TV receivers are of a poor quality the sound and vision is less than satisfactory. The way in which the system is operated is very unfair, time is used up whether you are using the facility or not. By reason of the fact patients are not always in bed and have to go for various procedures etc. it is not a fair system. It would be much better if you only used up your voucher time when the TV is actually switched on not from the time the voucher is activated whether in use or not.

Kerry says:
27 October 2012


I was admitted to hospital 2 weeks ago. I have leukemia. I am half way through my first course of chemotherapy and expecting to be in hospital for at least another 8 weeks.

The tv costs 35 pound for ten days i explained my situation and asked if they would be willing to do buy one get one free on the tv and they refused. Even though i pointed out i could have bought a tv from the shop and actually got all freeview channels by the time i get out of here.

I don’t use the internet cause it is so slow its faster on my phone. I don’t use the phone. I don’t watch that much tv either couple of hours a week.

Its shocking! Money is enough of a worry without worrying about a tv.

Kitty says:
1 October 2014

In reply To JIM (Who works for one of these companies) – (his post is above, somewhere)

I CANNOT afford to PAY !!!!!! So it IS very expensive for me to have to PAY for FREEVIEW channels !!!!! It seems that only the Rich Sick can afford to watch/use these hospital packages – not for people like me 🙁 (Disabled and on benefits). I don’t own a lap top, tablet etc so this is not an option for my lengthy stays in hospital. There is NO day room with free tv where I am am – so it seems, Jim, you are as out of touch with poorer in-patients, as what Cameron and his cronies. What options are there for people like myself? NONE !!! This unfair system needs to go!!!! Prisoners get a better deal 🙁 {Before you ask – I am using my Dad’s PC to write this)

I live in Sydney and was shocked to hear that my poor father, who has been in hospital in London with throat cancer has a £300. Bill for watching TV!! This is a disgusting abuse of the most vulnerable people. I’m personally writing to everyone & anyone who’ll listen. I doubt it’ll change a thing but I look at it like a dripping tap.

Vindiboy says:
10 July 2015

Take your laptop/iPad into hospital and you can access YouTube, iPlayer and other streamed services but….


Could it be because these services are blocked by Hospedia?
The company that provide TV services to bedsides.

Check it out Batman

I read your forum with much interest as I am in hospital now and have been since 26th May 2015, my outlook is better now than a month ago but there is light at the end of the tunnel more than I can say for the patient line TV and telephone system which is not working more than when if does, a real rip off, so as a patient who was not informed just how long a stay I would have to endure decided to go for their 30 package for £75:00 which is in today’s monies a real rip off. Since I have been in hospital there have been many occasions when the “system” has been down this morning being one of them, but being on here for so long patientline have got you by the short and curlys, loads of down time with very little to do so if you are anything like me you to would choose to go with the best package as they do say that if you should leave before your prepaid 30 days had expired you will be refunded a portion ( I have yet to use this option) but I fear it like the system itself would prove to be more difficult that advertised.
When I purchased my first 30 day package I was allowed to watch everything including all the movies, but as time has gone on they now charge to watch the newest films, so if you have bought a 30 day package and like me the idea of watching some films which have been released in the last couple of months they now want a further £4:50 for each film, now this is a real rip off.
Why oh why does the NHS get their act together and put in a wifi system that can be used by all patients and charge accordingly as at the moment they recieve nothing from patientline, except for complaints about a system which simply does not make sence for the NHS nor the patient