Alison Craig: £70 a week to watch TV in hospital is sick

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Recently I ended up unexpectedly in the ERI. One minute walking around Edinburgh with the usual glaikit expression on my face, the next strapped to a gurney.

Part of life’s rich tapestry. First impressions: ERI is impressive, white, clean, shiny and inhabited by bright, efficient staff, of that I am still in no doubt. I surrendered to the system, trusted them – after all, they know a lot more about what’s going on than I do, so excellent care received, I was admitted to the ward. Finally, I was left alone to gather my thoughts and looked around. Phew.

Hospital, no matter how new and shiny it is, or how fabulous a job the staff do is quite a traumatic place to be. Well it’s not home. There are machines with wires that make noises. You are in a room with three strangers. You are at your most vulnerable, lying in a strange bed, in a backless hospital gown with your belongings in a plastic bag underneath your bed and vitally, your health in question.

A brave smile on my stricken face, I acknowledged my fellow inmates, all of whom had a similar expression. Looking round my bed area I saw, hallelujah, above each bed a TV attached to a hydraulic arm. Salvation. A distraction. Something to wile away the hours and hours between tests, results, delivery of alleged food, chats with doctors, blethers with nurses and life stories of fellow patients. So with a bit of help I swung it down in front of me and flicked it on.

The screen flashed up dozens of TV channels and 11 film channels, and a £10-per-day price tag. I rubbed my eyes. Clearly this was some sort of joke or hallucination. But no, on closer inspection, it’s absolutely correct an unbelievable ten quid a day to watch TV.

Now, I work in TV and I know it’s not vital to life, and quite often it does little other than pump mindless moving pictures and drivel into our brains. But to be frank, right there and right then that was precisely what was required. Something to block out the noise of these infernal pumping, monitoring, machines, something to distract from the pain thumping through my body and something to muddy the stark reality of being in this place at this time out of control and scared.

Charging £70 a week for the privilege of watching telly is a nonsense. Pensioners, people on benefits, and those in hospital for any length of time off work and perhaps not earning, cannot afford it. And even if you are working and can, this is a line in the sand for the haves and the have-nots. Unacceptable on any level.

As an aside if you do take the plunge and try to buy the service, the fiddling around required with credit cards, punching in numbers via the handset makes it a long frustrating process from start to finish and one I am sure anyone over a certain age would find impossible.

We have TVs at home, we pay our licence fees, we have set-top boxes that pump free channels throughout the land and yet here, when you are down to your bare minimum at your most vulnerable they try to screw you for £10 per day. So who is it, the NHS or some evil capitalist TV supply company? I’m amazed that one of the big TV companies hasn’t swooped in and grabbed this as a major PR opportunity to save us, the common people, and at the same time enjoy this captive audience.

Lots of people don’t want to watch telly, preferring to read, contemplate life or sleep, but for those who do is this not a basic human right in 2012?

Ten pounds a day for the TV, £7 a day to park a car and did I mention the hospital food is imported from Wales? (another column in the making). Honestly if it wasn’t the sick they were targeting there would have been a riot by now.

I predict the moment a high-profile politician finds him – or herself admitted to hospital, they will treble the salary of all the doctors and nurses and will make sure all patients have free TV, free parking and a decent locally-sourced and cooked meal. Of course, the problem is the rest of us mere mortals can’t wait for that day – so how about today?

I admit it’s the sort of thing that you don’t think about it until it’s you. I didn’t. But I am thinking about it now and will continue to do so until it’s changed.