The introduction of the market into healthcare has some pretty horrendous results. We know about the soaring rate of hospital acquired infection following privatisation of cleaning services, for example. Allyson Pollock’s recent research shows that competition in the NHS leads to worse outcomes for patients – no great surprise, if hospitals are competing with one another instead of collaborating, or kicking patients out of hospital early to save money on a bed.Some of the effects of ‘marketisation’ are more subtle – but have a huge impact on patients. There have been some fascinating press stories this month on the money made by hospitals in car parking fees – over £100 million across the NHS in England. Addenbrookes makes £2.5 million a year from car parking alone! Southampton General Hospital picks up a tidy 2.1 million.
Patients or visitors can end up paying out as much as £70 a day to park – very costly indeed for someone attending a course of radiotherapy treatment, or for relatives visiting a seriously ill or dying patient.
Patients aren’t just a money-making opportunity when it comes to parking. A company called Patientline sells its services to many hospitals now. It increased its telephone charges by 160% last year – but was forced to put them down again following an outcry.
The costs are still a disgrace. Outgoing calls – the patient phoning home, for example – cost 10p a minute. The real horror story, though, is incoming calls – the typical situation of a friend or relative phoning someone in hospital to find out how they are. This costs 39p a minute off-peak, and an astonishing 49p a minute at peak times. It’s hard to justify paying so much more to ring your Mum or Dad up the road than to call someone in Australia – but that’s life in an NHS run on money-making lines.
The TV package from Patientline costs £2.90 a day in some hospitals and £3.50 a day in others. Again, that’s a substantial sum of money for someone on a low wage or a state pension.
Remember the good old days of WRVS cafés selling cheap snacks? Not quite gone yet, but going fast. There are at least four Burger King outlets now in NHS hospitals, and a host of Costa Coffees, Café Ritazzas and the like. This is another opportunity for hospitals to make money out of patients and relatives – part and parcel of daily life in an NHS where hospitals are forced to run as small businesses
The Welsh NHS has just banned car parking charges, quite rightly. It would be nice to see the rest of the UK follow suit – and extend the philosophy to cafés, TV viewing and phone calls. The ethos of the NHS is that we care for sick people because that’s a part of the values we share and hold on to in a decent society. £3.50 a day to watch the TV or 49p a minute for a phone call isn’t compatible with putting people first.