Hospital Denies Forcing Visits By Skype

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A hospital has denied it was forcing relatives to use Skype instead of visiting them in hospital

A British hospital has been hit with a wave of criticism after reportedly urging relatives to use Skype instead of travelling for a bedside visit of their sick relations.

The scheme had been proposed by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. However the Trust has vehemently denied newspaper reports that it was proposing the use of Skype instead of bedside visits.

The scheme, as reported elsewhere, suggests that instead of undertaking costly travel to the hospital everyday, families could instead save money by speaking to them via the Internet.

Travel Expense Saving

The scheme is intended to save money from relatives who receive travel expenses.

This is because mental health patients in the East of Berkshire are due to be relocated from Ascot, Maidenhead and Slough to a new hospital unit in Reading (in the west).

This planned move had provision for some relatives who qualify, to receive travel expenses when they want to visit their relatives at the new unit.

However the NHS officials reportedly suggested that relatives instead use the Internet as an alternative to bedside visits.

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is currently having to find ways to save £4 million a year.

Hostile Reception

Predictably this suggestion did not go down well with some mental health charities.

Skype would be a no-no for many elderly people who do not have a computer,” Julie Coole of Windsor Mencap was quoted as saying by the Telegraph. “The trouble is that people who are younger and work with computers forget that there is a community out there with people who may not have access to them.”

“IT is taking over the world, but there is no substitute for holding hands at the hospital bedside,” Eleanor Cryer of Slough Mencap is also quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Meanwhile there was equal disbelief in other newspapers.

“It is ludicrous. I had to read the document twice to believe what I was seeing,” Colin Pill, chairman of the Local Involvement Network branch, which advises on NHS services, is quoted as saying by the Sun newspaper.

Trust Response

However Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has strongly refuted suggestions that it is saying that relatives should use Skype instead of visiting.

“The way this story has been reported elsewhere is a result of shoddy journalism,” said Anne Diamond, head of communications for Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. “In our proposal document we used the words ‘ in addition’, and not ‘instead of’. It says ‘in addition’ quite clearly in the document.”

“We conducted thousands of meetings over this proposed move as part of our consultation,” said Diamond. “The problem is that we have run into people who have failed to grasp the big picture of the whole consultation.”

“In reality in the East of Berkshire we only have 60 mental health beds,” said Diamond. “At any one time, a third are unoccupied, as we prefer to treat people in the community (i.e. in their homes). So we only have 40 mental health beds occupied at any one time and this consultation was about moving them 20 minutes to the East of the county.”

“We are a small mental health trust, and nowadays with the advances in drugs, we can more easily treat people in their homes,” said Diamond. “If you were a patient undergoing kidney dialysis, would you prefer to be treated in your home or in hospital?”

Diamond said the use of Skype was only a suggested option to help the Trust save money.

She confirmed that Trust bosses have now postponed a decision on transferring the patients to Reading’s Prospect Park Hospital because of the row.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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