Vodafone to cut off pager network in decision that could unsettle NHS workers

Written by Rebecca Hill on 11 May 2017 in News
News

Company ditches plan to sell business after competition watchdog announces investigation - a move that will see the healthcare staff that rely on the tech left with no choice of network

Vodafone decision to ditch pager business leaves healthcare sector reliant on one remaining network - Photo credit: Flickr, Hades2k, CC BY-SA 2.0

Vodafone has decided not to pursue its plans to sell is pager business to Capita’s PageOne, after the Competitions and Market Authority announced plans to launch a further investigation the merger.

The CMA’s decision, announced yesterday (10 May), would have seen the sale enter a phase two investigation, as Vodafone and Capita are the only two companies that still provide pager networks.

In a statement, the CMA said that an initial investigation had found that the merger “could lead to a substantial lessening of competition as the two companies are the only suppliers of wide-area paging services in the UK”.

Vodafone responded by saying that - instead of going through the expensive and lengthy investigation - it would simply shut down its business, which has been struggling with user numbers.


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In a statement, Vodafone said the ruling was “a surprising decision considering that this market has been contracting for some time and no other country in Europe has more than one wide area paging network”.

It added that it would do its best to minimise the impact on its 1,000 customers that use the service.

However, concerns have been raised because many of these users are in emergency and response services, such as hospitals, ambulances and lifeboat teams. They choose pagers due to them generally having broad coverage, good battery life and simple, reliable tech.

Liam Lehane, the London Ambulance Service’s assistant director of operations, told The Guardian in February that pagers were used “quite widely” in the NHS.

“They’re really good for pushing messages out,” he is quoted as saying, adding that another advantage is that people “tend to take notice” of pager messages because they are different from a normal phone call or message.

Vodafone’s decision to scrap its business now means these users will be forced to rely solely on the Capita network - the situation the CMA had intended to avoid.

Indeed, the CMA’s initial ruling, which was published before Vodafone announced its decision, said that “customers could face price rises and reduced quality of coverage” if there was only one network in the UK.

However, it is possible that the reduction in networks available to existing users will act as a nudge for the healthcare sector to look at using different technologies.

Speaking at a conference on artificial intelligence in London yesterday, Dominic King, senior clinical scientist at Google’s DeepMind, said that - although doctors and nurses still rely on pagers - “almost 100%” carry mobile phones with them.

He said that the prevalence of phones and tablets was behind his company’s decision to create an app - known as Streams - that alerts healthcare staff to patients that may be at risk of acute kidney injury.

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