Published: 10/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5850 Page 10 11

Over 20 hospitals have yet to progress beyond preliminary discussions to install bedside telephones and TVs for all patients.

This comes despite an NHS plan target for all hospitals to have Patient Power systems in place by 2004.

Latest Department of Health figures reveal that 77 hospitals have installed the system and 42 are undergoing installation.A further 51 have signed contracts and 63 have identified a preferred provider from a recommended list of four companies. But 21 hospitals have not progressed beyond initial discussions with suppliers.

As it takes an average of two years to install the system, there are concerns that the target will not be met.

While eight companies were granted full or provisional licenses in 2000 to bid for NHS contracts, one company, Patientline, which boasts former NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands as a non-executive director, has become the dominant force.

To date, nearly 140 trusts across the UK - of a total of 254 eligible to install the systems - are signed up with Patientline, set up by former prison service director general Derek Lewis, while just 10 have signed deals with three other providers.

Over 38,000 NHS patients have access to an integrated TV and telephone at their bedside.

Outgoing calls are free, but incoming calls are charged at 39p per minute off peak and 50p per minute in peak times.

Patientline, which is quoted on the alternative investment market, has raised£80m via share options and has a£90m debt facility to cover expansion plans.

Mr Lewis said he did not think the presence on the board of Sir Alan, who receives£15,000-a-year as a non-executive director, had a major influence in decisions by so many trusts to sign up.

'Sir Alan was recruited for his tremendous knowledge of the health world. But he is very much a non-executive - he attends a half-day board meeting once a month and doesn't have anything to do with the day-to-day running of the company'.

Asked if he expected a nearmonopoly situation, Mr Lewis would only say that Patientline 'regarded itself as very well placed in the market' and offered a service that was easy and convenient for patients and staff.

He added that future options could include an e-mail facility so hospital managers could get instant feedback from patients.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was up to individual hospitals to choose from the list of licensees.

'NHS Estates has regular meetings with the providers to assess their capacity and involvement with the NHS. NHS Estates does not manage the market - NHS Estates has created a level playing field in terms of competition.

'It is up to individual trusts which supplier they choose to provide the best service for patients, and similarly the suppliers have to convince trusts that their service is the best.'