Not being with friends or family while they recuperate in hospital can be heartbreaking - something that was especially difficult during the Covid-19 lockdown. During the pandemic, smartphones and similar technology became more important than ever to help keep us connected.
Research conducted by O2 revealed that the network’s customers made 25% more calls a day during Covid, and the time they spent talking per call went up by 30%.
So even with Covid restrictions now lifted, there are still plenty of rules about when and where you can use your mobile phone in hospital.
We take a closer look and explain everything you need to know about using your phone 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, browse online and check social media to pass the time. You can even make video calls for face-to-face chats.
The NHS even relaxed 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.
The NHS even offers its own free Wi-Fi service in many of its hospitals and health centres across the UK, so you can use that if you don't want to use your mobile data. As with any free public Wi-Fi, it might not always load things very quickly, and you shouldn't access sensitive information while connected to it. But it will certainly be a very easy option for many patients wanting to get online.
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 you should 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.
Provided you have a strong enough signal, you can call anyone you wish with your own mobile phone, which means everything will be covered under your tariff.
Patients can call their relatives on mobiles and landlines for free with hospital phones provided by Hospedia, the company that provides bedside phone services to patients in 150 NHS Trust locations around the UK.
However, calls from outside the hospital 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 pandemic.
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.
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.
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 Plus or Netflix and choose some content to download and watch offline.
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