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Hospital trusts make thousands in profits from baby scans
THE region’s hospital trusts are making tens of thousands of pounds a year from charges they place on photographs of unborn children.
Ultrasound scans are typically taken at 12 and 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. After the scan, parents can buy a copy as a memento.
However, while hospitals say the charge is largely aimed at recouping costs, in some instances a significant portion of the income is profit.
An inquiry by The Northern Echo has revealed the extent to which County Durham and Darlington, North Tees and Hartlepool and the South Tees NHS Foundation Trusts are making money from the photos.
Rachel Green, chairwoman of the Darlington branch of the National Childbirth Trust, said: “It is reasonable that the hospitals should cover their costs in producing these photos, but they should not be making money.
“If they are making money, it should be ringfenced so that it can be spent within maternity units.”
Mrs Green said some hospitals had previously asked for donations rather than charging a flat fee.
She also said that if there had to be a charge, it should be at cost, for the first photo at least.
Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign group, said: “Pregnancy should not be a moneymaking opportunity for hospitals.”
The Northern Echo discovered that the County Durham and Darlington trust, which runs Darlington Memorial Hospital and the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham City, received £31,320 from payments for baby scan photos in 2011-12.
It charges £2 an image, although it did not reveal how much of that was profit.
A spokeswoman said: “We provide this service so that parents can take away images of their baby, it isn’t provided for clinical purposes as clinicians only need the digital images.
“Therefore, we need to ensure we have the appropriate supplies and facilities to have this service available for those who wish to use it.”
The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, which provides ultrasound scans at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and at Peterlee Community Hospital, said its income from photos in 2011-12 was £28,060. That included a profit of £5,145.
A trust spokeswoman said it charged £2.50 per photo, although 42p of that went in VAT to the taxman.
She said: “The photo is an optional extra. Many people choose to have them because they are an inexpensive first memento of their new baby.
“When we deduct our costs, including staffing time, film, stationery and other overheads, this means we make 38p surplus from each scan.
“This contributes to the cost of patient care in the radiology department, which is responsible for the scans.”
The South Tees NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust, which offers ultrasound scans at The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, said it made £7,226 profit from scan photos in 2011-12.
A spokeswoman said it charged £4 each, with £2.92 of that covering the trust’s costs. She said the money went back into the department.
The Department for Health said it did not provide guidance on the charging regime for hospitals because it was a local issue.