/ Health, Technology

£10 a day for hospital TV: is there a fairer remedy?

Hand holding TV remote in hospital bed

£10 a day for hospital entertainment sounds like a lot and creates a divide between those who can afford it and those who can’t. So, with a cash-strapped NHS and companies struggling to profit, what’s the answer?

Apparently, hospital patients are now being charged £10 a day to watch television. That’s 10 times what people in prisons pay (for higher cost packages), but the solution still isn’t clear cut.

My dad recently spent a month in hospital, and – having seen some rather hi-tech website images of bedside entertainment systems – the reality was rather unexpected. It was the sort of small, scruffy portable you last saw in the 80s, and we had to phone the company to provide a portable aerial as he couldn’t get a picture.

Hospital entertainment experiences

Last year we asked 1,520 Which? members about their experiences of bedside entertainment systems – and you also told us what you thought in a previous Which? Conversation piece.

We heard that they could be ‘expensive’ and ‘confusing’. Others told us about the high costs of phoning into hospital, the difficulties in setting up the service, and the lack of refunds for unused minutes. This was Verity’s experience, after paying for a TV system for her elderly mother who was then moved to another ward:

‘The TV system didn’t follow her, despite numerous phone calls to the 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.’

The challenge is; what to do about it. It’s clear that expecting a cash-strapped NHS to foot the bill will only divert resources from other services that patients need.

But the rise in the use of mobile phones and other technologies has meant that bedside entertainment systems are not used as much as anticipated when they were first introduced. Consequently, the companies providing them say they struggle just to break even.

Current system creates a divide

It’s hard to know what the answer is. My dad gave up on his snowy-screened bedside TV and resorted to watching whatever the man in the bed opposite decided should be on the communal ward set, but there were long days and nights to fill.

We could have afforded a better alternative and probably would have been pleased to pay for it, but in our case it wasn’t available. Unfortunately, not everyone can say the same, like our previous commenter Bill’s relative:

‘As he is long-term sick and on benefit, he simply could not afford hospital TV or phones. However, he had to lie there in his bed all day, watching other, richer people, enjoying TV. This did nothing to help his mental state which is so important for recovery.’

Not everyone has an iPad or a mobile phone, so taking hospital bedside entertainment systems away doesn’t seem to be the solution, but neither is less affluent patients listening to their neighbours enjoying television that they can’t afford.


Is radio generally available free-of-charge? It was on the only system I have seen in use.

anon the mouse says:
22 February 2012

Providing proof of TV licence to patientline (the company), should really be all we need.
If you want above the basic channels then pay for the extra.

Unfortunately Patientline spent all their money installing the system, and in Leicester they managed to talk the NHS PCT into continuing a needless ban on mobiles for an extra couple of years to recover some of the cost back via patients 50ppm phonecalls.

The system is expensive and does seem to have usage problems.
The cost is directly related to the high cost of installation and lower than expected usage especially with patient stays getting much shorter since contracts were agreed.
All the cost was born by private companies – mainly Patientline – who I believe have made little if any money out of the system.

In comparison to £106 a week state old age pension – £70 is too much – I’d take my mp3 player and keep my eyes closed. Yet another example of punishing the poor – supporting the rich.

The last time I was in hospital (for a day and a half) – I even had to walk with recent operated painful hernia about 40 metres to answer a telephone (they didn’t charge me though). There were telephone sockets close to my bed

I remember a time when there was no TV in hospitals – why is it presumed that there ought to be? These days we have MP3 players. I’m certain lots of people still own a ‘Walkman’ and we have phones that are capable of providing TV and radio as well. Is this topic really relevant?

Not everyone has a phone capable of providing TV and radio, or have a suitable contract to make this possible. A phone screen is not exactly ideal for TV.

If you take an electrical appliance into hospital it will have to be PAT tested before you can charge it, adding to administration work and NHS costs.