Patientline board hits out at rebel investors

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The Independent Online

The board of Patientline, the company that provides hospital-bedside telephone and televisions services, hit back yesterday at disgruntled shareholders who want to unseat its chairman, Derek Lewis.

The investors, led by Shore Capital, intend to call an extraordinary shareholder meeting this week at which they will seek to force out Mr Lewis, a former director general of the Prison Service.

The investment bank Shore Capital and its clients own 18 per cent of the company and are believed to have secured the backing of other investors. The rebels are thought to speak for nearly 50 per cent of Patientline.

Mair Barnes, a senior independent director of the company, said: "The board unanimously supports Derek Lewis and is grateful for his continued leadership of the board at this important time in the development of Patientline's business.... Derek's specific experience and expertise is considered vital in securing the best outcome for all Patientline shareholders."

In an attempt to shore up its defences before the meeting, Patientline appointed Colin Babb as managing director yesterday, replacing Per Jonsson who has left the group. Mr Babb joined the company in December as interim chief operating officer.

Patientline has more than £80m of debts and has racked up mounting losses since it floated in 2001. Its shares plummeted last year after the telecoms watchdog Ofcom launched an investigation into the prices it charges for incoming calls.

Ofcom exonerated Patientline last month after a seven-month inquiry. But the watchdog also called on the Department of Health to review "all aspects" of the installation and running of hospital-bedside phone and multichannel entertainment systems.

The investigation was triggered by complaints from patients and their families that it cost more to phone the local hospital than to ring Australia, with calls costing up to 49p a minute.

Ofcom said it continued to have "significant concerns about the level of charges for incoming calls" but blamed a "complex web of government policy and pacts between providers, the NHS and NHS trusts".

Patientline has also hoped hospitals would use its equipment to display patients' electronic records, but apart from a few places such as Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London where this system is in operation, NHS trusts have so far not signed up to those services.

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