Bedside entertainment and communications systems for hospital patients have been officially launched at Kingston Hospitals NHS Trust. The wall-mounted patient terminals have been installed by private firm Patientline.

The terminals will enable patients to use the web and email from their hospital beds, watch digital TV, listen to radio, as well as make and receive telephone calls.

Patientline says that the terminals are also designed to enable full integration with hospital IT systems. The system can also be integrated into nurse call systems.

Six hospitals in England and one in Scotland are piloting the Patientline system. The company says that up to 100 NHS hospitals are committed to using the system.

The bedside terminals will not only offer web services for four pence a minute, but also telephone, television, and video games. The internet service has access controls built in to prevent access to unsuitable content. Emails with attachments will also be barred.

Patients or their relatives will have to buy smart cards to operate the machines. For the under-60s the cost will be £3.20 a day, and £1.60 a day for the over-60s.

Outgoing phone calls will cost slightly less than BT payphone rates, but relatives phoning a patient will have to pay 50p a minute charge – considerably higher than most mobile phone tariffs.

The NHS Plan stated that patients should have access to bedside televisions and telephones, and that these services would be available in every major hospital by 2004. The Government subsequently brought forward the deadline for all major hospitals to provide these services by 2003.

Patientline has met the full cost of installing the equipment under lengthy exclusive contracts with each NHS hospital. The firm will take back all the proceeds of the sale of smart cards to patients.

Some 555 beds at Kingston hospital will have the terminals installed by the end of the month. Other hospitals that launched the scheme this week include: Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Luton and Dunstable Hospital, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, The Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, and Wycombe General Hospital in High Wycombe.

Patientline, chaired by ex-prisons boss Derek Lewis, was founded in 1994 and provides services to hospitals in the UK and The Netherlands. It claims to secured contracts to supply bedside entertainment and communications services to 105 UK hospitals.

The firm became a listed public company in March 2001 when it raised over £40 million in new equity. An additional £128 million was raised in a second round of funding in June 2002