Hospital patients will be able to use mobile phones on wards after official policy guidelines were relaxed from today.
Health minister Ben Bradshaw is advising health trusts to let patients use mobiles as long as they do not interfere with equipment, privacy or cause a nuisance.
Existing Department of Health guidance stipulates that mobile phones should not be switched on or used in clinical areas, including wards, unless there are good reasons to do so. The current rules are also aimed at preventing people taking "inappropriate" photos and videos with camera phones.
It is understood the new policy can be implemented immediately, but it is up to individual health trusts to decide how to proceed.
Mr Bradshaw said the policy change recognised the fact that mobile phones were now commonplace and could also help provide comfort to patients.
He said: "Close support and comfort from loved ones when you are poorly in hospital is essential. Mobiles phones are commonplace in everyday life these days and people have told us that they'd like to be able to use their phones more 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 offered in hospitals such bedside payphones, TV and internet access."
The Government consulted with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which helps decide what medicines and medical devices are safe, before making the change.
Previously the organisation did not advocate a blanket ban but advised that mobiles should be kept out of areas with sensitive medical equipment such as intensive care and specialist baby units.
Nigel Edwards, director of policy from the NHS Confederation which represents managers in the health service - told the BBC that any change to policy should take account of patients need for privacy and the need to make stays in hospitals less worrying.
But he added: "The last thing we want to do is to make hospitals more stressful than they need to be because of the noise of annoying ringtones or the kind of loud phone conversations that already plague much of everyday life.
"Doctors and nurses doing their rounds should not have to constantly wait for patients to finish phone calls and night-times on wards should not be disturbed by the chirruping of text messages."Reuse content