Published: 07/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5949 Page 7

'Exorbitant' charges for bedside entertainment systems in hospitals could be cut significantly under plans to use them to store patient information.

Many patients are unhappy about the cost of using the systems, which are provided by private companies and include telephones, televisions and access to the internet.

The Department of Health is now examining whether hospitals could contribute to running costs by using them to store their own data.

National director for patient and public involvement Harry Cayton said patients frequently told him the price was 'unreasonably expensive'.

He told HSJ: 'We hope to explore ways the systems could be used for data collection, patient information, audit purposes or electronic care records. That might enable the costs to be ameliorated and that would allow the cost to the patient to be reduced significantly.' Patient Association chair Michael Summers said the charity had also received complaints that the systems - particularly the telephones - were too expensive.

'Patients discover only too late that the price of the calls are exorbitant and people do not realise that when they are trying to phone a family member, ' he said.

The entertainment systems are installed by one of four private suppliers who have ploughed more than£115m into the scheme at no cost to the NHS. By the end of last year 75,000 patients in 155 hospitals were able to use the systems.

David Grace, chief operating officer at Premier TeleSolutions, which will eventually provide systems to around 25,000 beds, said hospitals could use them for medical records, hospital radio - or even to help patients order food.

'The machines are linked together by an optic-fibre system running through the hospital, which can be exploited. If the hospital does so, and makes a contribution, it will allow us to keep the cost to the patient competitive.' A spokesman for Patientline, another provider, said it offered concessions to specific patient groups. 'The price of the entertainment service is dictated by the capital and operating cost of providing it, ' he added.