Sunday, September 30

Patientline -The End

Patientline PLC the troubled hospital communications company that we have been monitoring since April admitted at its fraught AGM on Thursday that it is in urgent talks with banks regarding restructuring its balance sheet (again) because of growing liquidity problems. In other, more simple words, is about to go bust!
The reason is as we have pointed out on this blog more than a few times (see labels below) is that Patientline's vastly over paid Directors and senior managers got it badly wrong. They over expanded the company, over priced the product and under performed on the quality of the service - currently over 20 per cent of the equipment in the 150 hospitals in which Patienline operates is in some way faulty.
The company, which achieved pre-tax losses of £30.2 million, admitted its shares are now virtually worthless (less than one pence each); the cash flow is at a critically low level with suppliers queuing up to be paid.
The hard pressed ward and call centre staff who are paid little more than the minimum wage - with unobtainable high pressure sales inventives - are either leaving in droves or calling in sick as a direct result of the vast quantity of daily complaints from ward staff and patients.

Amazingly a Patientline spokesperson said on Friday: ''there has been a reduction in incoming call revenues as a result of a challenging operating environment and the recent instruction by Ofcom, whereby a message must be played to customers at the start of calls informing them of the cost of the call.'' So there you have it Patientline's failure is a result of not understanding their customers and consumer legislation!
Since Patientlines demise is now inevitable there is an urgent need for the Government to establish non-profit organisations to deliver the 'patient power' service (a Blair legacy) that Patientline have quite spectacularly failed to do.


Anonymous said...

"there is an urgent need for the Government to establish non-profit organisations to deliver the 'patient power' service (a Blair legacy) "

I'm sorry I dont agree. If a company is not performing it should be subject to market forces. If they dont shape up then someone can come in who will.

Peter Troy said...

Ordinarily I would agree with you anonymous. In the case of the Patientline problem it is simply not possible, because of many constraints to provide the service on a normal commercial basis. Thus the only solution is for a non-profit making company to run the telephone and audio and visual services to NHS patients. This need not be at the tax payers expense just on a non-profit bases without shareholder pressure.

Expecting a PLC to provide the service with all the consequential commercial pressures will inevitably result in the excesses that we have seen in recent years from Patientline.

Though I have to say Patientline have undoubtedly made matters worse - believe me I witnessed their incompetence first hand when I was contracted to them for 18 months. On many occasions I saw the stress the company was causing not only to sick people, which was bad enough, but also to their own often very loyal staff. Despite numerous attempts to explain the operational problems I experienced to senior management and getting nowhere I terminated my contract in pure frustration and set about explaining the scandal that is Patientline in the public domain. (In July I received a 'phone call from New York on behalf of an investment company seeking on the ground detail of Patientline's operation -I was happy to enlighten the potential investor across the pond).

There is a better way for NHS patients and Patientline's existing front line staff - that being the establishment of non profit making companies operating in 150 hospitals the bedside units and other equipment that the future liquidators of Patientline PLC 's assets will dispose of.

Since the original problem was created by the government it is only reasonable that the government help find the solution - which will not involve the bailing out of Patientline with £85 million pounds for existing debt and ongoing operational losses. The better way will be to provide a much needed service at an affordable cost.

Max Christian said...

Patientline IS a non-profit making company, and always has been!

If you think that the myriad of problems this company has faced could have been solved better without profit motive then put your money where your mouth is and go and live in Cuba.

Anonymous said...

The way to do it is to lease the equipment and set them up with a choice of providers, maybe even allow them to type in their own home phone numbers and it gets charged to that account.Have the kit on short term lease and anything short of exzcellent service will result in the loss of contract to supply the kit. It's really that simple.

North Jnr said...

"Since the original problem was created by the government it is only reasonable that the government help find the solution"

But you're forgetting the golden rule of public services.... Everything the government does is rubbish.

valerie Tibbles said...

Oh that is a bit harsh north jnr, about the govenment.

I really do appriciate the ban on smoking in public places which the govenment have just implemented...

That was good rubbish"

But I do agree with Peter Troy, there should be a govenment intervention on this fiasco of a company....

Peter Troy said...

Re Max's (not a real name I suspect)comment.

Patientline PLC was not established as a 'Non Profit Making Company' (which can also be called a 'Not for Profit Company'); which is a formal classification of Company. Patientline is a company that has failed to make a profit and thus pay a dividend to its shareholders;or for that matter repay its bank loans.

I am proposing the setting up of a series of Non Profit Making Companies Limited by Guarantee Iin each NHS Trust which by defination will not have sharholders to pay profit dividends to. The difference is something that 'Max' is clearly unaware of and is also perhaps ignorant of the reasons behind my suggestion, but never mind others understand.

The Mryad of problems that Patientline have had are primarily as a result of over expansion into more hospitals than their structure or cash flow could reasonably expect. A problem which has been compounded by the the poor quality of Directors on the Board - as the debacle of the price increases in April illustrated.

As for Cuba nah - Jersey is a far better option.

Sister Nightingale - from a Teesside Hospital said...

Peter you say that Patientline Directors are over paid indeed they are - they are also under informed.

Nick Winks, Patientline’s chief executive, who earns almost £230,000 a year, said in the Daily Express : “The terminals are over-engineered for what they are used for today, which is TV and telephony. They’re there for all these clinical uses which are not being used. If we could start again we could do this at half the price.”

The point the silly man is missing is that the medical staff do not have the confidence in the equipment which is not robust enough to do the basic job for which they were intended (mind you clearly neither is Nick Winks). As Peter correctly states at least 20 per cent of Patientline's bedside units are currently faulty - the systems are not fit for purpose.

Pat Thornby said...

A big thankyou for raising the profile of Patientlines problems with it's current service.I work as a presenter on hospital radio at the William Harvey Hospital in Kent.

A £1 charge for headphones was introduced on the 17th of September and patients are very unhappy having to pay for them When I explained to one of the Nurses that it was due to cross infection she commented 'what are they going to do with the beds - burn them as well?'

One gentleman pointed out a new article about Patientline in the paper which said that the company was collapsing.

Pat Thornby

Anonymous said...

You have to think about the fact Patientline have had no money for the equipment from any trusts they put all the equipment in themselves. We should take our hats of to it it does deliver a wonderfull service but as ever people expect something for nothing.

Peter Troy said...

Well said anoymous - as an obvious Patientline employee you will get 'brownie' points from your well paid bosses.

The key point is that patients do not seek the service for nothing they simply seek value for money and a quality service.

Evidence , as if it were needed , that Patientline are over charging and delivering a poor service (over 20 per cent of their bedside units are faulty at any one time)can be seen in their fast decining sales revenue. Sick people in Hospitals quite simply do not want to pay the high cost of the service; but they do want value for money.

Anonymous said...

I too work for a hospital radio station, but fortunately one that doesn't have Patientline. Whilst I totally agree with the sentiments about the way the company has been the architect of its own downfall, unfortunately it is now going to cause a huge problem for all those hospital stations where Patientline was the only way of getting their service to the patients bedside. If the old distribution system is no longer there, then these stations will effectively be forced off-air if the Patientline service is shut down.

Generally, when it's done properly and with the patients (rather than the budding DJ's!!)in mind, hospital radio is well received by patients and staff. So it's yet another area where the patients come off worse; another dimension to this fiasco that was never thought through by either the directors of Patientline or this "grandiose ideas but incompetent implementation" Government.

Sarah Hopperty said...

Mmmm a lot of people from Hospital Radio services will be very upset when Patientline goes bust - how will the hospital radios broadcast since they are dependent on Patientline to distribute their output ? I recall that Peter Troy was involved with Southside Broadcasting which was based at James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Anonymous said...

Some hospital radio services, if they're lucky, may still have their old distribution systems in place (hard-wired service to the patient bedside or Low Power AM transmission) and will bring these back into service. The rest will be faced with either the considerable expense of funding a replacement distribution system themselves (the hospital trusts are unlikely to have spare money) or else closing down. Even for those who have kept their original distribution systems it will be a backwards step as the stereo reception quality on Patientline is better than either AM or hard-wired mono systems.

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