Questions Of Cash: Left in tears by wrangle over medical bills


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The Independent Online

Q. I went to a medical centre in August last year with varicose veins. Although my vein was pumping blood the wrong way, I was told that an operation to treat it was no longer available through the NHS.

I was advised to have it carried out privately and so I obtained quotes for a range of operations and costs. The surgeon’s practice manager was quite helpful. In October I agreed to have the VNUS operation at £1,105. The operation was booked for 30 November, which ended up being the strike day for publicservice workers. I had the operation instead at the end of January at Park Hospital in Nottingham. I was never told the detail of how the costs would be charged. The first bill came a few days later from the surgeon for £386. Then I had a charge from BMI Healthcare for the hospital costs of £1,000. So instead of a bill of £1,105, the total was £1,386. The check-up visit cost a further £85. Apparently the hospital increased its price at some point but I had agreed to a payment of £1,105. When I spoke to someone at the hospital, they agreed I was correct, yet the next day I had a final demand for the payment. I phoned the next week to speak again to the same person and I was told that no such person worked there! The debt collection agency now says that the bill has been taken back by the hospital. I have since heard back from the person who I spoke to before – so he does exist – who promises the matter will be sorted. But it is now over three months since the operation and I am still unclear what is happening. I burst into tears last week with frustration. CT, Cheshire.

A. Your outstanding bill has now been cancelled. A BMI Healthcare spokesman says: “The vast majority of our patients – almost 97% according to our most recent independently compiled statistics – rate their overall quality of care as good or better and enjoy a seamless process from their first consultation to the conclusion of their treatment and settlement of their costs. Unfortunately in this very rare instance an incorrect bill was sent to the reader and we would like to apologise again to her for the error and the distress it has caused.”

Q. I entered into a twoyear contract for a mobile phone service with Virgin Media in October 2011. Just a month into the contract, Virgin Media suspended my service without any formal or informal communication. I only realised that my service was suspended through the voice mail when I was trying to make a call to my wife in an emergency. I then made contact with Virgin Media to seek an explanation as to why the service was suspended. No clear explanation was given. The person I spoke to refused to discuss the matter. I then told him that if this was not resolved imminently the only option for me was to cancel the direct debit. I made several attempts to get clarity and I spoke again with another employee of Virgin Media, who agreed to cancel the contract and start afresh to amend their mistake of including my wife’s details on the account. We spoke for 50 minutes. Despite all this, nothing has been resolved so I was left without any option besides cancelling my direct debit for a service I was not receiving. I have a wife and children and other social and business networks to communicate with and cannot live without a phone. Virgin Media breached the contract with me by not honouring their commitment. In doing so, they ruined my relationship with my previous provider, who I was with for seven years. Now they are demanding payment of £781.43. CM, by email.

A. There is a serious disagreement between you and Virgin Media about the key facts. Specifically, Virgin Media denies that you ever opened an account with it in your name. Virgin Media insists the account was in your wife’s name and only she is able to discuss the matter with them, as required by the Data Protection Act. Virgin Media states that the account was not cancelled, but was suspended when the agreed direct debit payment was cancelled. Its records show a large bill in your wife’s name that has been outstanding for several months, while you still have a phone that was supplied by them, which is worth around £400. You reject Virgin Media’s explanation of events, but we are unable to do anything more unless your wife authorises us to do so. Given this impasse, we suggest that you or your wife lodge a complaint with the ombudsman’s scheme to which Virgin Media belongs, Otelo, the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman. It can be contacted on 0845 050 1614.

Q. I have an internet savings account with Tesco Bank, paying interest at 2.90 per cent until this month’s first anniversary. I have received a letter fromthe bank saying: “As a loyal Internet Saver customer, here’s something to say thank you.” The rate from May 2012 will be 2.40 per cent. The advertised rate for new customers is 2.80 per cent. For existing customers, this can only be achieved by closing one account and opening a new one, in spite of the letter saying “so you don’t need to worry about arranging anything. What could be easier?” PM, Dorset.

A. It seems to get the best rate at a Tesco account, consumers have to go to a bit of effort. A spokesman for the bank says: “So that Tesco savers don’t fall on to an underlying rate we automatically give all Internet Saver customers a new annual bonus. At any time a customer can open and transfer their funds to a new Internet Saver and we’ve explained this to [the reader]. However, on this occasion our customer has chosen not to do so.”

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