Telstra accused of ‘ripping off’ vulnerable customers
LYNDSAY Iwanicki was desperate for a distraction from the agony of her inflammatory bowel disease while she was in hospital.
Not only that, the pensioner from South Australia was surrounded by other patients loudly expressing their own pain and suffering.
Fed up, she checked to see what was on her personal bedside television. She only wanted to watch free-to-air channels to take her mind off the "pain and loneliness" of her situation - but she received an unwelcome surprise.
She said Telstra were charging $13.50 a day for patients to access free-to-air channels, like the ABC, 9 and 7, on the bedside screens.
But when it comes to who is responsible for the fees, both Telstra and SA Health have pointed the finger at each other.
SA Health told news.com.au that this fee (which it says is actually $13.75 a day) grants patients access to an "entertainment package" in certain hospitals, which includes all movie channels, digital TV channels, selected radio channels, internet, local telephone calls and various amounts of long distance and mobile phone calls.
However, Ms Iwanicki believes that the service is a "rip off" and added that "vulnerable" patients, who she said need to save money to spend on their health, have no other option than to suck up the cost.
The disability pensioner described how she was surrounded by many elderly people in a similar situation to her.
"We can't afford to be ripped off," she said. "Hospital was hell for me. I had stomach and bowel problems. In my ward of four, one patient pressed the buzzer every two seconds.
"She just wanted attention, something to take her mind off her pain and fear - but not at a cost that'd make her choose between a few free to air TV channels and essentials like food."
Ms Iwanicki has now started a Change.org petition, which has raked in almost 60,000 signatures, asking for an end an end to the "exploitation" of sick patients in hospital beds through high access fees. She believes the pricing is driven by "greed".
A Telstra spokesman told news.com.au today that it has been delivering patient entertainment services to 11 hospitals in South Australia in partnership with SA Health since 2012.
However, he said any decisions to change these services, including pricing, must be made together with SA Health.
"We have brought this petition to their attention and look forward to discussing with them ways we can improve patient entertainment services, including options on how to make free to air entertainment more accessible to all patients, after the SA election," he said.
"We are committed to working with SA Health to implement any changes to in-hospital entertainment in the hospitals we service."
However, Bill Le Blanc, Executive Director eHealth Systems and Chief Information Officer for SA Health, told news.com.au that charges for the "Telstra Patient Entertainment package" are set by Telstra.
He said the rates have remained the same since January 2014 and, as of last year, the entertainment package includes all movie channels, streaming movie channels, digital TV channels, selected radio channels, internet, local telephone calls and various amounts of long distance and mobile phone calls.
However, he said that many patients have access to the full entertainment service free of charge, including those in the chemotherapy units, renal dialysis units, the hospice at Modbury Hospital, palliative care wards, Department of Veteran Affairs Gold and White card holders.
"Patients under 18 years of age also receive free basic entertainment services, including free to air television channels in dedicated paediatric wards," he said.
"Many regional hospitals that do not have the bedside entertainment service provide access to free-to-air channels at no cost."
The smallest package starts at $6.50 for four hours access. Patients can purchase up to 60 days access, which would cost them $330.
Prior to the implementation of the Telstra bedside entertainment, patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital paid $10 to access basic free-to-air television channels only.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) SA chief executive Jane Mussared told The Advertiser that the cost of paying to watch TV in hospital emerged as an issue in a series of surveys conducted by her organisation to glean a snapshot of the major concerns of older residents ahead of this month's election.
She said the TV hospital fee - along with car parking at hospitals - was raised as among the costs adding to the financial burden being felt by many older residents in 2018.
"(Older South Australians) are telling us that to pay almost $14 a day for something that once upon a time you'd have expected to get for free - and to keep in touch with the world while in hospital - is extraordinary ... it is a sizeable cost," she said.
Telstra's "entertainment packages" are offered at: Royal Adelaide, Queen Elizabeth, Lyell McEwin, Flinders Medical Centre, Women's and Children's, Modbury, Noarlunga, Port Pirie, Port August, Whyalla and Mount Gambier.
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