One of the hardest things about the Coronavirus lockdown is not being able to visit loved ones in hospital. Of course, we all understand the very sensible reasons behind this decision. But it’s still heartbreaking not to be with the people we love, especially when they’re unwell.
Which is why it’s more important than ever to use technology to keep in contact with friends and family, particularly if they’re in hospital.
And ever since we’ve been in lockdown, people are embracing the phone call more and more.
In fact new research conducted by O2 has revealed that the network’s customers have been making 25% more calls a day, and the time they spend talking per heach call has also gone up by 30%.
But can you actually use your mobile phone in hospital? Are there any restrictions? Can you connect to Wi-Fi while you’re in hospital? We take a closer look and explain everything you need to know about using your phone in hospital.
Can I use my smartphone in hospital?
Yes, using your mobile phone in a hospital is definitely allowed. In fact, the NHS is actually encouraging patients to use their phones. It says on the NHS website that, “We want you to use your mobile device in hospital, it’s an important way of keeping in touch and making use of online resources like the NHS app.”
So that means anyone in hospital can call family and friends, use messaging services like WhatsApp to keep in touch, browse online and check social media to pass the time. You can even make video calls for face-to-face chats.
The NHS is even relaxing its strict technology policies in intensive care units. According to a BBC report, there has been a "massive culture shift" in hospital intensive care units around the country, with doctors and nurses encouraging their patients to bring in tech that can help them stay connected and entertained during their time in hospital. This includes mobile phones, tablets and chargers.
A charity called the Life Lines project is even aiming to supply 4G tablets from BT, Samsung and Google to intensive care units around the country. And to ensure patients stay safe, these tablets will be kept in protective cases that are easily wiped clean.
Are there any restrictions around using your smartphone in hospital?
As you’d expect, there are a few rules and regulations around using your smartphone in hospital. These are:
Receiving pics from family and friends and sending selfies to show you’re doing alright is a great way of feeling connected but be careful about accidentally including people you don’t know in the background, like other patients, staff or perhaps those in busy waiting areas.
Don’t take a photo of anyone without their permission first, even for a bit of fun. Not only can this make people feel uncomfortable, but it’s also a breach of their privacy. Similar rules if you’re making video calls. Make sure you’re in a discreet place so that the person on the other end of the chat can’t see any patients, visitors or staff members.
In general, it’s just really important to be aware of the people being treated and working in the hospital. Don't make calls in sensitive areas and try to be quiet and discreet.
Using your phone in a hospital is fine, but there are some areas where important medical equipment is used and mobile phones can interfere. Don’t worry, any areas where there is sensitive equipment will always have clear signs instructing you that you cannot use your phone in that particular spot. If you see a sign like this, make sure you either switch your phone off or set it to airplane mode. Putting it on silent will not be sufficient as it could still affect the equipment.
How much does it cost to call someone in hospital?
Calling a patient in hospital often means a premium charge. But with people suffering from COVID-19 stuck in isolation, Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 have removed these premium charges so that loved ones can get in touch without having to shell out.
However, one company that is refusing to remove its charges is Hospedia, the company that provides bedside phone services to patients in 150 NHS Trust locations around the UK.
Patients can call their relatives on mobiles and landlines for free with Hospedia’s phones, but calls to a Hospeida phone costs 13p a minute. So, while calls made by patients to both landlines and mobiles are free, those made by relatives to a patient can be expensive.
Previously, calls from mobiles to Hospedia would also have incurred additional costs from your mobile provider. A call made from an EE would have cost 65p per minute on top of Hospedia’s charge, and people on O2 and Vodafone would have paid an extra 55p per minute.
But now, the UK’s big four mobile phone providers have removed any charges people may have had to pay to call hospitals so that they can stay in touch with loved ones during the Coronavirus crisis.
However, despite pressure from the NHS, Hospedia says they cannot scrap their charges.
The NHS has issued a statement saying: “It is disappointing that at a time when so many people and organisations are doing all they can to support the NHS and the wider national effort to get through the greatest public health challenge in a century, some patients are being charged to speak to their loved ones and vice versa."
So how can you escape these charges? Well the simple option is the just call mobile to mobile.
Of course, as ubiquitous as smartphones are for most people, they’re still not for everyone. Lots of elderly and vulnerable people may not be comfortable using a smartphone and may not even own one. But there are always options. So let’s take a look at how you can stay in touch with people while they’re in the hospital.
Tips for keeping in touch with people while they’re in hospital
Now more than ever, staying in touch with people in hospital is hugely important. Due to the nature of COVID-19, people who are suffering have to stay in quarantine with not even close family visitors allowed. And whilst many of our older family and friends might be quite tech savvy, some might need a bit of extra help.
The first thing to do is make sure anyone you’re worried about being able to contact has got a phone. Now remember, this in no way has to be a smartphone. There are plenty of really easy to use, basic mobiles out there (sometimes referred to as ‘dumb phones’) with big physical buttons that are easy to use. So no confusing touchscreens here. In fact, they’ll look and operate in a similar way to the mobile phones of old. Think Nokia 3210 if you’re struggling.
It’s also equally important to make sure they know the basics of how to use their phone. So, how to switch it on and off, how to make and receive phone calls and how to charge it up when it’s low on battery. This may sound insultingly simple to most of us, but if you’re talking to someone who isn’t used to using a mobile, it’s worth checking they know how to use it.
What are mobile phone providers doing to help?
With a lot of people having tough times at the moment, communication really is key. And in light of the Coronavirus crisis, a lot of big companies are doing their bit to help us all out. Mobile phone networks have made a lot of offers, discounts and free bonuses available to customers to make sure they can stay in touch with loved ones during this difficult time.
For instance, Vodafone, EE, Three, O2 and Sky Mobile have all made all access to NHS websites completely free of any data charges. And O2 has even added a whole range of other support websites to their list to help people find the important information they may need, including Age.co.uk and Mind.org.
Not only that, but Vodafone, EE and more networks are offering great bonuses like free data for NHS workers and vulnerable customers.
Find out more about all the ways the networks are helping out customers during Coronavirus with this useful guide.
Staying entertained in hospital
Apart from staying in touch, smartphones and tablets are also good for keeping entertained. From passing the time with addictive games to watching beloved films and new TV shows, these devices can be a godsend if you’re stuck in quarantine.
But you may be thinking you can just use the hospital’s facilities for watching TV. Well, you can use a bedside TV. However, the cheapest package for using Hospedia’s TV units is a 7-day package that works out at a whopping £4.99 a day.
When you compare this to the cost of a Netflix or Disney+ subscription, each costing just £5.99 a month, it’s hugely expensive. But luckily, if you’ve got a smartphone with you, you can keep yourself amused by watching TV for free.
All you need to do is download your favourite streaming services, whether it’s BBC iPlayer, Disney+ or Netflix and choose some content to download and watch offline.
Take a look at the phone networks that are offering a free subscription to a streaming service.