Union bosses have slammed NHS Lothian for being the only health board in Scotland that doesn’t offer free wifi in the adult wards of their hospitals.
The health board only provides internet connection within wards at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, which is provided by charity the Sick Kids Friends Foundation and not the authority.
NHS Lothian say it is in the process of deploying guest wifi in all sites where there is a NHS wireless network, which will provide access to the internet at no charge, but does not allow access to streamed content. Access to streamed content will be available for a fee. The health board says guest wifi is being piloted at St John’s Hospital in Livingston and will be made available around other sites across NHS Lothian starting in June.
The company responsible for providing the use of television, internet, radio and phones at the hospitals across the country was forced to defend its fees after a petition calling on it to scrap or reduce them was launched last year. Hospedia charges patients up to £10 per day for a package that can include radio, 25 TV channels, 70-plus movies and five Sky Sports channels.
However, NHS Lothian is the only health board not offering free internet access to inpatients.
Unison branch chairman Tom Waterson said this might have something to do with the terms of the original Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract that may not have included providing internet access.
He added: “It’s a hell of a coincidence that the one hospital that doesn’t have wifi is the one hospital that we pay £60 million a year in rent for.
“You would have hoped, given that the Sick Kids Foundation support wifi in the Sick Kids hospital, that Consort be magnanimous and put in wifi for the staff, patients and visitors at all hospitals across the region. This service may well be outwith the original contract to provide services at the hospital and anything outwith contract costs an absolute fortune. They absolutely should be looking to bring us into the 21st century – we pay 22nd century prices, so they should provide this service.”
Martin Egan, director of eHealth, NHS Lothian, said: “We recognise how important wifi services are for our patients and that is why we are beginning to roll-out wifi access across our hospital sites and we hope to be complete by the summer.
“We already have wifi in wards at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, which is funded by the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity. Patients in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh pay for bedside TV, radio, internet and phone packages though Hospedia. Costs start at a minimum of £2.50 for a two-hour package.”
Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs MSP said: “In this day and age patients and families expect to have access to wifi. Access to wifi has become the norm in Scotland and it is time for NHS Lothian to get their act together and provide wifi in their hospitals.”