Ministers have ordered hospitals in England to relax their ban on the use of mobile phones as fears about their interaction with sensitive medical equipment have receded.
But NHS managers warned that forcing sick patients to endure tinny renditions of "The James Bond Theme" and shouted conversations beginning "I'm in hospital" would be unlikely to speed their recovery. Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation representing NHS trusts, said contact with relatives and friends could make a stay in hospital less stressful. But patients should not have to put up with intrusive ring tones like passengers in a railway carriage.
"The last thing we want to do is to make hospitals more stressful than they need to be because of annoying ring tones or the loud phone conversations that already plague much of everyday life. Doctors and nurses doing their rounds should not have to wait for patients to finish calls and nights on wards should not be disturbed by chirruping text messages," he said.
In new guidance to the NHS issued yesterday, the Department of Health says trusts should consider giving patients, staff and visitors the "widest possible use" of mobiles, where "it doesn't interfere with equipment, the privacy of others or cause a nuisance".
Ben Bradshaw, the Health minister, said: "Close support and comfort from loved ones when you are in hospital is essential. Mobile phones are commonplace in everyday life and people have told us they'd like to be able to use their phones in hospital to keep in touch.
"That's why we're keen to encourage sensible use in NHS hospitals where it is safe to do so, in addition to other services in hospitals such as bedside payphones, TV and internet access."
Existing guidance says mobiles should not be used in clinical areas, including wards, unless there are good reasons to do so. The rules aim to prevent people taking "inappropriate" photos and videos via camera phones. The new policy, announced yesterday, can be implemented immediately, but it is up to individual health trusts to decide how to proceed.
The Government consulted with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which helps decide which medicines and medical devices are safe, before making the change. Previously the MHRA stopped short of advocating a blanket ban but said mobiles should be kept out of areas with sensitive equipment.
The relaxation of the rules will hit Hospedia (formerly Patientline), the company that supplies TV, phone and internet access for patients on NHS wards. Patientline was criticised for charging high prices and went into administration in July.
The new guidance follows similar rules for Scottish hospitals, which were introduced in February 2008.Reuse content