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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Doctors attack mobile phone rules
mobile phone
Patients and visitors often want to take or make calls in hospitals
Rules governing the use of mobile phones in hospitals remain too restrictive, doctors have said.

Two researchers writing in the British Medical Journal say a lack of evidence of interference with medical devices led to a relaxation of rules.

But they say enduring concerns about such issues as ringtones being confused with medical alarms are over the top.

The body which issued the advice for the NHS said it was down to individual hospitals to set their own rules.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) rules also suggests camera phones should not be allowed in hospitals because they may undermine the privacy of patients.

Ringtone confusion

In the BMJ, Dr Stuart Derbyshire and Dr Adam Burgess of the University of Kent School of Social Policy say concerns over inference with medical equipment are outdated.

Mobile phones are an easy target in a precautionary climate
Dr Stuart Derbyshire and Dr Adam Burgess, University of Kent

They cite research which found phones could interfere in a non-harmful way with 4% of medical devices, compared to 41% for emergency services' handsets and 35% for those carried by porters.

They add: "Mobile phones arrived in an age when safety concerns were high and various restrictions were imposed - for example bans on beef during the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) scare.

"Mobile phones are an easy target in a precautionary climate that demands proof something is not dangerous rather than grounds that it is."

The new MHRA regulations say a total ban on mobiles is unnecessary.

But they say phones must be switched off near critical care or life support equipment.

However, they also suggest the ringing of phones may cause confusion and mean alarms on medical equipment may be overlooked.

And they say using camera phones may compromise patient confidentiality.

'Mythical risks'

However Drs Derbyshire and Burgess said: "Beeping, ringing, and singing ring tones can be a nuisance, but do not endanger patients.

"Doctors and pharmacists would benefit from using mobile phones rather than pagers.

"And many patients in hospital would welcome the opportunity to relieve their isolation without resorting to expensive hospital phones that are cumbersome to use."

They urge hospital managers and clinical directors to adopt a more flexible approach to the use of mobile phones on the basis that "the advantages clearly outweigh their largely mythical risks".

The MHRA published its latest advice in July and a spokesman said: "It's down to individual hospitals to develop their own rules. We would not recommend a complete ban."

Report co-author Stuart Derbyshire explains the findings

Call to end hospital mobile ban
28 Feb 03 |  Health

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