Can I use my mobile phone in an NHS hospital?

It depends on the hospital’s policy on the use of mobile phones.

You can probably use your mobile phone in some areas of the hospital to make calls or send text messages. However, if your phone has a camera, it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to take photographs. 

NHS guidance on use of mobile phones

In January 2009, the Department of Health (DH) issued guidance for NHS trusts on the use of mobile phones in NHS hospitals. The guidance recognises that communication with family and friends is important when someone is in hospital. In line with the principles of patient choice, the guidance says that the use of mobile phones in NHS hospitals should be allowed, as long as their use does not affect:

  • the safety of patients or other people
  • patients’ privacy and dignity
  • the operation of medical equipment

The guidance recommends that NHS trusts should have written policies covering the use of:

  • mobile phones, including those with built-in cameras
  • other cameras
  • video recording equipment

You can ask to see a copy of your hospital’s policy.

Mobile phones and medical equipment

Interference from mobile phones can stop medical equipment from working properly. This includes:

  • dialysis machines
  • defibrillators
  • ventilators
  • monitors
  • pumps

Loud ring tones and alarms on mobile phones can also be confused with alarms on medical equipment.

Look for signs at the hospital

The DH guidance recommends that hospitals should display signs to show where mobile phones can be used.

Depending on your hospital’s policy, areas where mobile phone use is allowed could include:

  • the hospital entrance or reception
  • communal areas such as cafés and lift lobbies
  • day rooms
  • non-clinical areas on wards where direct medical care is not given

Hospital signs will also say where you can’t use your phone. Areas where using mobile phones could be forbidden or restricted include:

  • critical or intensive care wards and units
  • special care baby units and neonatal units
  • any area where specialist medical equipment is being used to treat a patient

If you’re not allowed to use your phone, make sure you switch it off. Don’t just leave it on the silent or vibrate setting, because it can still affect medical equipment.

Using your mobile phone

If you need to make a call or send a text, make sure you go to an area where you can use your phone. If you’re not sure, ask a member of staff. You may be asked to keep your phone on silent or vibrate.

It’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to charge your mobile phone while in hospital. Some maternity units may permit photos to be taken with a mobile phone  for example, parents with their newborn baby  as long as no staff or other patients are in the photo.

Infection control

Studies have found high bacterial contamination, including MRSA, on mobile phones. To minimise the risk to patients, people who use their phone are advised to wash their hands before they come into direct contact with the patient.

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Further information:

Page last reviewed: 29/08/2013

Next review due: 28/08/2015