The ban on the use of mobile phones in hospital should be relaxed, say doctors writing in two leading medical journals.
Evidence for ban is 'flimsy' say researchers
The ban was introduced because of fears phones could interfere with equipment.
But doctors say that since the ban was enforced in the early 1990s, evidence they could cause serious harm had been "flimsy".
US studies have shown handsets carried by paramedics and porters cause significantly more interference.
Researchers from Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital and St George's Medical School in London say rules on mobile phone use should be relaxed.
A sensible balance could be struck
Dr Saul Myerson, John Radcliffe Infirmary
They say patients can feel isolated on hospital wards, where phone provision is often inadequate, and they should be allowed to use mobiles.
A study by the UK Medical Devices Agency found some evidence of interference with heart monitors and pacemakers.
But it takes place only when phones are within a metre of the monitor, and stops when the phone is moved away.
The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London already allows the use of mobile phones in selected areas of the hospital.
Patients and relatives say they find being able to use their phones "invaluable".
Dr Saul Myerson, a cardiologist from the John Radcliffe Infirmary, told BBC News Online: "People who made the policy took what was the most defensive line and the easiest to implement - to ban mobiles altogether.
"In practice, that has stopped people using them when they really need to."
He said the ban had led to people being verbally, and sometimes physically, abused for using their phones in hospitals.
"Interference occurs only in a minority of phones, about 5%, and at a very close range of less than a metre", he added.
"It's sensible to ban phones from clinical areas, more because they could be disruptive than anything else.
"But a sensible balance could be struck, and their use could be allowed in non-clinical areas."
He said he hoped hospital managers and clinical directors would consider their findings.
Researchers from St George's Medical School, led by Dr Omer Aziz, wrote in The Lancet: "The absence of any real evidence of risk to patients' safety, coupled with advances in handheld technology, should cause hospital trusts and their advisory bodies to reappraise the current restriction against mobile phone use in hospitals."
A spokesman for the Federation of Electronic Industries said he welcomed the researchers' conclusions, which were what he would have expected.
He added: "The risks of interference have probably been exaggerated, but its for the medical profession to make these judgements, rather than us."