Mobiles To Be Confiscated From Hospital Wards To Protect Patients’ Privacy

Visitors to hospital wards could have their mobile phones confiscated because of fears they are compromising patient confidentiality. Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust has introduced a ban on mobile phones in all clinical and ward areas to protect patients and staff.

But it will allow patients to use their own phones – instead of public call boxes or expensive bedside phones – in hospital corridors and restaurants. Some bed-bound patients could be allowed to use their mobile phones on the ward, but only if they get special permission from the nurse in charge.

The clampdown has been instigated amid fears some people are taking photographs with their phones in wards and clinics. It is part of a wider protocol on the use of mobile phones in hospitals in light of the latest research about the effect they have on sensitive medical equipment.

A review is being carried out to ensure that all of Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust’s 21 hospitals and clinics comply with the protocol. The guidance comes after the Vale of Glamorgan Council attempted to become the first in the UK to ban photography, filming or other imaging of children or young people in parks and open spaces without written permission.

Peter Johns, director of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales, said: “I have always understood the reason for not allowing mobile phones in hospitals was for clinical reasons, to avoid interference with medical devices. If that is no longer the case then I don’t see why using a mobile in hospital should be a problem, except for the nuisance of having lots of ring tones around you when you are ill.”

The new rules governing mobile phone use within Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Gwent Hospital, in Newport, and Nevill Hall Hospital, in Abergavenny, state that there have been a growing number of incidents where they have been used to record events. This, it is claimed, compromises the dignity, confidentiality and privacy of staff, visitors and patients.

The protocol states: “This may be the result of a visitor, patient or member of staff inadvertently recording events, or the result of more sinister motives.”

A spokesman for Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust said members of staff had raised concerns about the use of mobile phone cameras in children’s wards, where the trust has a duty to protect children. And it is understood that reports have been made of people being “snap happy” in antenatal clinics.

While mobile phones will be banned in all clinical and ward areas, in some parts of the hospital – where patients or medical devices are deemed to be particularly vulnerable – they will have to be handed in at reception desks.

The protocol also lays to rest the ongoing debate about whether it is safe to use a mobile phone in a hospital. Referring to the results of a number of studies, it said, “At a distance of greater than 2m from medical devices, mobile phones are quite safe in hospitals.

“At shorter distances a range of adverse affects were identified, from distorted readings and infusion device errors to the worst-case scenario when a mobile phone was used at 5cms and caused a ventilator to shut down.”

Mobile phones will be permitted in hospital restaurants, hospital corridors and in some waiting rooms. Official government figures last week revealed that NHS trusts in Wales make more than £220,000 a year on public phone charges.

Conwy and Denbighshire NHS Trust said its annual income was high – the highest at almost £64,000 – because of the ban on mobile phones and the lack of a bed-side patient communications service.