The Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued new guidelines about the use of wireless communication and electronics in hospitals and clinics, saying that they ought to be seen as managed risks, rather than banned outright.

A ban on mobile phones, laptop computers, handheld gaming devices, 2.5G and 3G is now “not required, and impossible to enforce effectively”. Short-range communication such as Bluetooth, cordless telephones and Radio Local Area Networds (RLAN) are now considered to be “unlikely to cause interference under most circumstances and need not be restricted."

Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive of the MHRA, said that the new guidance was designed to reflect rapidly changing technology: "Mobile communication technology is particularly fast moving, resulting in a wider range of communication equipment becoming available. We have recognised that hospitals need to be updated and advised as to what action to take in light of these advances.

“Some mobile devices can cause interference with critical medical equipment and it is important these are turned off where a risk exists.  However, there is no reason why mobile technology can’t be used in designated areas of hospitals where there is little or no risk of interference with critical medical equipment."

“Mobile technology can be an easy and quick way for staff to communicate and help them to deliver the best possible care to patients. Overly restrictive policies can act as obstacles to this beneficial technology."

The MHRA stresses that wireless communication and electronics should still be restricted to “designated areas", kept away from life-support equipment and subject to local and hospital rules. Managers should take responsibility for their hospital or clinic’s own radio frequency spectrum, and report any interference to the MHRA.

The reclassification comes one month after the BMA’s annual conference in Llandudno voted to lobby for a lift of the blanket ban on mobile phones in hospitals, agreeing that “modern mobile telephones have very little risk when used in hospitals… clinical care would benefit if mobile wireless voice communication devices were to replace bleeps."

Dr Simon Calvert, who proposed the motion, had said that change was “long overdue", and that analogue radios were far more capable of interference than modern mobile telephones.

A spokesperson for the BMA told E-Health Insider: "As the MHRA has recognised, many modern mobile phones have little or no effect on hospital equipment. Issuing NHS staff with mobiles would ultimately be of enormous benefit to patients.

“At the moment most junior doctors have to rely on the old-fashioned bleep system, which means they can be called away from an urgent case to see to something that turns out to be less important. Mobile phones can be a quick and easy way for NHS staff to communicate and help them provide the best possible patient care."

Analogue radios, such as those used by emergency service personnel, continue to be forbidden from hospitals except for use in “an emergency, never for routine communication". Further information about the new guidelines can be found here.