Calls to end ‘rip-off’ TV charges at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as talks begin

HEALTH bosses are expected to hold talks this week with the company which provides bedside TVs at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary amid demands for an end to “rip-off” charges.

Lothian MSP Miles Briggs called on NHS Lothian to secure a “fair deal” for patients in place of the current contract, which sees Hospedia charge patients £17.50 for two days’ use of the TVs, as well as phone calls and internet access, or £5 for two hours.

MSPs complained in a debate at Holyrood earlier this year about the “extortionate and prohibitive” costs faced by hospital patients.

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And Health Minister Clare Haughey said the Scottish Government wanted health boards to look again at deals when existing contracts came up for renewal.

Patient watching television on bed at the hospital.

Mr Briggs, who is the Tories’ health spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, said: “The NHS Lothian contract with Hospedia is up for renewal this year and talks are due in early April.

“Hopefully the discussions will be about getting better value for the telecoms patients receive.”

And he said the roll-out of free Wifi to hospitals across Lothian should help the health board secure a better deal.

“It means patients could, if they chose, take an i-pad into hospital and use that for communicating or watching whatever they want.

“Older people might not have i-pads and some people who do have i-pads might not want to take them into hospital.

“Holding an i-pad can also be quite tiring so for some people a TV suspended above the bed might be a better option.

“But hopefully the fact the Wifi option is there means the board can drive a fairer deal for patients.”

Free patient Wifi, including streaming services such as YouTube and Facetime, are already deployed at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, and Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital.

A switch-on was due at the Royal Infirmary at the end of March, but had been delayed.

Mr Briggs said: “Most people think it’s a bit greedy to be charging £17.50 for two days and £5 for two hours. It’s a lot of money for people who are stuck in hospital.

“Here is an opportunity, with these talks, to look at really bringing costs down. I hope the health board will negotiate to get the best possible price for patients.”

At the conclusion of the Holyrood debate in January, Ms Haughey, replying for the Scottish Government, said charges for bedside television in hospitals must be proportionate and affordable.

She said: “It is our expectation that boards will not simply renegotiate existing contracts but will consider all available options, putting patients at the centre of any decision that is made.

“In addition to striving to reduce or eliminate patient charges, we urge boards to explore options for putting in place services that will provide more than just television and that will keep patients connected to their friends, their families and their lives.”

NHS Lothian confirmed the talks were imminent and said it would report back afterwards.