Bunhill: Playing cards with doctors

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The Independent Online
SUDDENLY American Express seems to be everywhere. I can't turn on the telly without finding Sir Terence Conran burbling on about those absurd green plastic cards.

In a barrage of newspaper and television ads, Conran and other restaurateurs and entrepreneurs are jostling to plug Amex - and of course themselves. It is a positive orgy of mutual ego-stroking.

It's easy to forget that many merchants still won't touch Amex. After all, as the old slogan goes, the card says more about you than cash ever can: namely that your prices inevitably have to incorporate the monster processing fees levied by Amex - up to 4 per cent of the transaction value.

Now I hear that even the mighty J Sainsbury has been won over. In a trial run, the grocery chain is accepting the charge card in 10 of its south London supermarkets. Amex is also said to be in talks with other grocery chains.

But Amex's cheekiest marketing coup is taking place in the medical profession. Mystified doctors at the Royal Brompton National Heart and Lung Hospital in London have been surprised to receive through the post - unsolicited - valid Amex cards with their names embossed on them.

Shortly afterwards some of them were even more surprised to receive a pounds 9 monthly bill from Amex - especially those who had snipped the unwanted cards and returned them in disgust.

Apparently the cards were ordered by Brompton Enterprises, the commercial arm of the hospital.

But what the poor medicos, suddenly confronted with unlimited spending power, are meant to do with them is unclear. Theirs is hardly a profession associated with hefty expense-account living.