Hospital cash machine charges criticised

By James Mortlock and Roddy AshworthUNIONS have criticised a beleaguered hospital after it installed a cash machine that charges patients for every transaction.

By James Mortlock and Roddy Ashworth

UNIONS have criticised a beleaguered hospital after it installed a cash machine that charges patients for every transaction.

West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, is one of 50 hospitals across the country to have installed a cash machine close to its main entrance.

A survey by a national newspaper, which claimed some hospitals made up to £20,000 a year in rent for each machine, revealed the West Suffolk Hospital cash machine was among the most expensive - charging £1.80 a time.

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It also revealed Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, had a cash machine that charged £1.75 a time for withdrawals.

Union officials at West Suffolk Hospital said the "unfair" charges were a further blow for patients, visitors and staff. Two months ago bosses announced a hike in parking charges, with the cheapest fee now £2.20 - swelling coffers by a further £90,000 a year.

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Representatives from health union UNISON said they were also concerned about the safety implications of the cash machine - claiming it had already been targeted by criminals.

A spokesman said: "We feel strongly that it is a big safety issue. We have raised the security side with managers and asked that the machine be placed outside the building rather than inside. That way, if it was raided it would be outside and there would be no treat to patients."

He felt that as the hospital was a good 15-minute walk from Bury St Edmunds' main banks, the machine should be free.

"A lot of machines don't charge, so really this one should be free to its customers. I feel it's an unfair charge," said the spokesman.

Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients' Association, said: "It seems singularly inappropriate that these companies are targeting people who are ill.

"It's also unfair that patients and hard-working staff should have to pay for the privilege of withdrawing cash, particularly as in some areas they will be a long way from the nearest free cash machine."

Cash machine operators said the fees were needed to cover installation and maintenance costs at sites where it would not pay banks to provide free machines.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: "The staff asked for a cash machine. If they had not asked for one, we would not have put one in.

"We approached banks to see if it was viable to install one ourselves, found there was a prohibitive cost and so approached another organisation, which installed a cash machine paid for through charging.

"To the best of our knowledge, this does not generate income for the hospital, but it is self-financing. It is made clear upfront that there is a charge for a transaction and if people do not wish to pay this, they do not have to use the machine."

A spokeswoman for Broomfield Hospital said it had agreed to have cash machines installed as a convenience to patients, visitors and staff, not as a money-making initiative.

"If we as a hospital were to provide cash machines ourselves, this would have to be paid for out of our budgets," she said.

"By having a third party provide the service, people have the opportunity of withdrawing cash in the hospital should they choose to do so. Both machines are well used.

"As well as the cash machines in the hospital, there is a cash machine in a local shop a mile away and another in a garage about 1.5 miles from the hospital."

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