In the aftermath of storms sweeping across Cornwall, and with more forecast, Truro and Falmouth MP is calling on telephone companies to prioritise line repairs for vulnerable customers.
Speaking in the House of Commons today Mrs Newton asked Eric Pickles MP for his help encouraging phone companies to instigate a priority customer service.
In response Mr Pickles praised the good neighborliness displayed by many people living near to neighbours with long term health conditions, and promised to make representations to phone companies in support of Mrs Newton’s campaign.
Mrs Newton is stressing how vital phone lines are for many people living alone with long term health problems, drawing on the experiences of her constituents.
In one case, a 99-year-old woman, who lives alone and is reliant on an emergency ‘lifeline’ system operated by BT, found that her telephone line had ceased working following the New Years day storms.
Despite repeated calls made to BT by concerned neighbours, and reminders to them of the lady’s reliance on her lifeline, the telephone fault was only resolved after a two week wait and after Mrs Newton got involved in the case.
During this time the lady had no means of summoning emergency assistance, and on the day that the emergency line was restored she had a heart attack, and, thanks to the emergency line, was able to summon swift help.
She is now recovering in hospital, due to the lifeline being restored just in time.
An eighty seven year old constituent, suffering from dementia, has been without a working telephone line for eleven days. A provisional repair date has been fixed, which will require a further week’s wait, despite living within meters of the local telephone exchange.
During this time the lady will be without access to the emergency care support she requires. Her son serves in the Royal Navy and is due to go to sea very shortly, and is understandably really worried about the consequences of leaving his mother alone with no emergency support.
Mrs Newton said: ‘‘Bad weather, such as that we have been experiencing in Cornwall and around the country, has a considerable impact on our phone lines. Whilst this is irritating for most, for some it is no exaggeration to say that a lost connection can mean the difference between life and death.
"What I am asking BT and other phone companies to do is to create a dedicated priority service that vulnerable people and their carers can access when their phone lines goes down, triggering an urgent repair. This dedicated service is already provided by Western Power to customers who need an urgent electricity supply for health reasons.
"I hope that local people can rally round my campaign and sign my petition, which can be accessed online at www.sarahnewton.org.uk. If anyone knows of any vulnerable person living in my constituency needing assistance with their phone line, please do let me know urgently.’’