back to article Mobiles can upset hospital equipment, after all

A new study published in Critical Care indicates that the signal generated by mobile phones can interfere with hospital equipment, even to the point of inhibiting its function, from a range of up to three meters. The UK Government has suggested mobiles should be allowed in hospitals, though many trusts have maintained their ban …


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  1. John Watts

    It's official

    Mobile phones can kill you!

  2. Simon Reed


    "Meters"? Yet another new unit of measure? Are these gas meters or electricity meters?

  3. Dave

    double standards

    The main hospital in Suffolk has the usual mobile phone ban in place and yet they rent roof space on top of their maternity unit to mobile phone companies and it is bristling with masts! They claimed in the local newspapers that the mast worked differently to phones and posed no threat! (were a source of income more like to pay for hospital administrators chairs made out of gold plated virgins.....)

  4. Andy

    Which begs the question...

    why isn't such sensitive and critical equipment adequately shielded from inteference in the first place?

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So why do doctors use them on the wards ???????

    I would love to know why so many doctors in hospitals use their mobiles on the wards then? I've been to a number of hospitals recently who rely on doctors using mobile phones. This is purely because the hospitals existing phone system doesn't offer the flexibility of a mobile phone.

    Sounds like bull to me!

  7. Ashley Stevens

    Legal not technical reasons

    >The UK Government has suggested mobiles should be allowed in hospitals,

    > though many trusts have maintained their ban on the basis that scientific

    >study is lacking, and even where they are allowed they should be kept at

    >least a meter from critical equipment.

    No. Many hospitals have maintained their ban because they have entered into contracts with PatientLine saying that they will maintain their ban!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Data or Voice

    So, GRPS and 3G intefere. How about a simple GSM voice call ? Although pagers are receivers and not transmitters, what about the signal sent to them ?

    Two key questions:

    1) Was this study sponsored by Patientline ;)

    2) Is there actual conclusive evidence, from anywhere in the world, that at least one indicent has occurred and traced back to a mobile phone transmission?

    It'd be interesting to know what the effect is on Petrol Pumps - erros in the metering/charging or a real risk to health ?

    With the prevalence of WiFi and hospitals in residential areas, I think they should be looking to buy better screened equipment.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In other words

    The study shows that mobile phones are perfectly fine in hospitals as long as they are kept 3m from 'hight dependency' areas.

    In other words there is no reason why mobiles cannot be used on normal wards.

    So the Patientline parasites can suck the blood of the REALLY vulnerable patients (those in ICUs, on dialysis, etc), but cannot victimise those in for ingrowing toenails.

  10. Daniel Voyce


    Im pretty sure if someone is on a ventilator the last thing they are likely to be doing is using their phone?

    Also goes GPRS 900mhz operate at 3W because im pretty sure that they operate at around 0.75W with all 3 channels open?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OK, so...

    don't use your mobile if you're on life-support

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So they are not going to impose safety standards to ensure critical medical equipment that isn't adversely affected by mobile signals (or any other transmissions/interference) because?

  13. Graham Hawkins

    Re: It's official

    But only if you're already nearly dead...

  14. Alex

    Re: John

    We know that anyway. - try driving while chatting.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lifeline? errr..

    I don't think so. Nothing short of someone giving them £80m is going to make these idiots figure out that they are screwed.

    The service they provide is to be blunt shite, pure shite. "TV's" with crap pictures, slow internet access with stupid filtering, monumental call charges - and the idiots in charge wonder why they are close to calling in the receivers?

    I can honestly say I have never felt any pity for this company - what a bunch of numptys.

  16. Chris

    But hospital staff use them

    That's the main problem I have with the ban remaining is that doctors and such like walk around the hospital with their phones and pagers switched on. So, why are their phones special?

  17. Andy S

    don't quite understand it

    i can leave mobile next to a pc with an open case. 10cm's or so from the processor and suffer nothing worse than a little popping on my (unshielded)speakers.

    Why is vital, life saving, equipment. so badly desiged that it is affected by mobiles to any degree, never mind complete failure. I mean call me crazy, but a ventilator is a fancy pump, why should a mobile phone signal cause a pump to completely fail? In this day and age i'd expect life critical machines to be hardened against EMP nevermind a mobile phone

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That study isn't very well written from an engineering perspective, it's hard to tell exactly what they're up to. Indeed, most of the authors (perhaps all of them) seem to be medics, which doesn't lend much credence to it being a well-designed experiment (contrary to Joe Public's common understanding, very few medics are trained scientists and even fewer know how to conduct a well designed experiment).

    The bit about an "electrically-balanced antenna" is especially confusing. It doesn't really mean anything. In any case, I suspect that they used a focused beam antenna, which would cause the field intesity to be orders of magnitude higher than the field intensity from a true mobile phone antenna, which generates an almost-isotropic field.

    In fact, I'd say the use of a focused antenna most likely since they're reporting a frightening response to a 2W signal from over 3m away, the field from which is almost certainly lost in EM noise (don't forget, sophisticated frequency and phase locking is used to extract useful radio signals from the general EM noise; the preprocessed signal:wideband noise ratio in radio comms is tiny).

    I'd have serious problems in drawing any real conclusions from such a badly-written up (and therefore probably badly-run) study.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @don't quite understand it

    Because Medical devices (covered by specific Directive 93/42/EEC) are excluded from "The Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2005".

  20. Jon

    Yeah.. B.lls..t!

    My wife works in intensive care here in Switzerland.. She is hands on to the most sensitive instruments in the hospital.. She also texts me every night and occasionally calls me..

    The hospitals only have phone bans on the ward for visitors and insist that the patients have their phones switched to silent because it disturbs the other patients. However there has never been a single instance of equipment failure in the whole time my wife has worked there.. 13 years.. that can be traced to mobile phone use..

    Obviously nobody is allowed within 3cm of the equipment without being properly trained because that's just daft, and leaving a phone on top of the ventilator is just criminal, but a ventilator failing from 3 metres is a reason to ban that poorly designed ventilator rather than a reason to ban mobile phones.

    There's more than a few dodgy handshakes and palms being greased here I do believe!

  21. Steve Evans

    GPRS 900Mhz...

    Okay, so that's O2 and Vodafone confirmed as murderers... What about the frequency used by Orange and T-Mobile?

    Vodafone GSM 900: 890 - 894.6 MHz 935 - 939.6 MHz

    O2 GSM 900: 894.8 - 902 MHz 939.8 - 947 MHz

    Vodafone GSM 900: 902 - 910 MHz 947 - 955 MHz

    O2 GSM 900: 910 - 915 MHz 955 - 960 MHz

    Vodafone GSM 1800 &

    O2 GSM 1800: 1710 - 1721.5 MHz 1805 - 1816.5 MHz

    T Mobile GSM 1800: 1721.5 - 1751.5 MHz 1816.5 - 1846.5 MHz

    Orange GSM 1800: 1751.5 - 1781.5 MHz 1846.5 - 1876.5 MHz

    Not forgetting of course that a mobile phone doesn't sit there and blast out 2watts all the time... The battery would last only a few minutes if it did... It only shouts as loud as needed to get the local cell to hear it. Which given the previous comment of Hospitals with masts on the top, would only be a few milliwatts.

    And how does this 3metres change when you put a wall in the way? I'd suspect you've have to be almost laying on Authur Patient before you'd cause his life support to go pop...

    So nice survey, now go away and do it properly.

    /me remembers fondly the days of driving down the local town highstreet and setting of bank alarms with a CB radio... Those were the days. 4 watts of 27Mhz... Lovely.

  22. Dave S

    And so....

    ....any news on whether mobiles can spontaneously combust and therefore cause a raging inferno at my local BP garage?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unfit equipment

    "mobile phones can interfere with hospital equipment, even to the point of inhibiting its function"

    The hospital equipment, NOT the mobile phone, is at fault in that case.

    There are defined standards requiring equipment to NOT be susceptible to electromagnetic interference as well as not to emit interference itself -- and if any equipment fails to tolerate permitted levels of interference, its highly likely that the equipment also radiates unwanted interference.

    In any case, the fact that defective equipment exists is not grounds for banning the use of phones altogether. The defective equipment needs to be restricted to specific areas and in those areas, a FREE telephone service should be enforced -- all done purely as a temporary expedient while the defective equipment is modified or replaced with equipment that DOES comply with the standards.

  24. Ian

    EMC directive anyone?

    If critical life support equipment is capable of being upset by a little tightly controlled RF emission from a mobile phone then it's even more likely to be affected by:

    1) Personal radios and Airwaves carried by police, ambulance staff and also often hospital porters and security - ALL of which I have witnessed being actively used close to critical care areas in my local hospital. All of which kick out more RF than the humble mobile phone.

    2) Uncontrolled EMC from floor polishers, meal re-heating units, motorised beds, sluces, autoclaves and all the other many electric appliances that get used all over hospitals. We're talking about devices here that switch kilowatts.

    And doesn't this displayed sensitivity suggest that the equipment would fail the EMC directive tests? Or is just us mortals who have to have CE marked equipment that operates properly?

  25. Jeff

    Re: don't quite understand it

    Why would life-support equipment be hardened against EMP when they can be disabled by someone tripping over the power lead?

  26. Dave

    Small Signals

    Some kit is hard to screen because it is trying to measure really small signals on the end of long wires and the filtering required would degrade the wanted signals. However this sort of kit isn't usually found in general wards, more typically in A&E and intensive care and a ban on mobile use in those areas is not unreasonable. The ventilator example sounds a bit like poor design or other post-manufacturing fault, because I don't think it would pass EMC testing in that condition.

    I'm sure we've all heard the characteristic noise of a GSM phone too close to audio equipment - it's the same effect and moving the two apart, often by a very small amount, can fix it. (If 0.55V of pickup doesn't rectify in a diode but 0.6V does and causes an audible signal, it doesn't take much change to go from nothing to quite bad.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dr's Phones

    Are normally DECT creations, not true mobiles.

  28. Andrew Heenan

    Worst Case Scenario Only

    The authors admit that this is very much a 'worst case scenario', and that real mobile phones (not used in this study), typically transmit using much lower levels of potential interference.

    And as Andy posted: "why isn't such sensitive and critical equipment adequately shielded from interference in the first place?"

    There are national - if not international - safety standards; surely manufacturers of syringe drivers (regular appearances in hazard warnings!) should be told to get their act together!

    I'd also like to know who paid for this study.

  29. Neil McAliece

    Time to change the law regarding this equipment

    This equipment should be shielded as standard

    What if a terrorist wanted to cause havoc - just hitch up the signal power output near a hospital and everyone dies.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who Gives A Toss About Patientline...

    ... They are a bunch of thieving scum-bags taking advantage or the seriously ill and deserve to go tits up!

    Boycott the equipment that's what I say!!!!!

  31. Spider

    thieving scum

    patientline are profiteering scumbags making as much as possible of the most vulnerable at their lowest point. mobiles have no effect on non critical equipment (i'd suggest those in critical states have more on their mind than making a call) there has never been a single piece of evidence to suggest there was. the ban is part of the negotiated contract to give them a monopoly. i'd be interested as to any hospitals that do allow mobiles because all the major ones near me don't (i visit them as part of the job)....

    also i can confirm that docs, nurses, hell even the porters use theirs as they know there's no problem.

  32. Orv Silver badge

    @ Dave (double standards)

    It's not a totally ridiculous claim. Cell phone tower antennas are designed not to radiate signal directly upward or directly downward, since that energy would be wasted. Large, reinforced-concrete buildings also do a remarkably good job shielding what's inside them from external signals, as anyone who has tried to use a cell phone inside one has noticed.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Why does this subject inspire so many totally clueless responses?

    E.g. pagers are typically *receivers* (no transmitter, so no interference).

    A GSM phone may not interfere with a PC, but one of the likely reasons is that the innards of a PC are largely digital, unlike the low level signals which matter when you connect leads to a person.

    The equipment which is affected by "GSM buzz" is not necessarily defective, especially when we're talking about low level signals and/or close proximity (ever tried holding a mobile up close to a CRT while the mobile is actively transmitting?). Given effects like that, no amount of shielding is likely to help when you're looking at people-derived signals.

    The EMC directive is irrelevant, for the same reason (and although the main EMC directive may not apply to medical kit, there are *stricter* criteria which *do* apply to medical kit for things like earth leakage current and doubtless others).

    Airwave works on significantly different frequencies than GSM/PCN. I have seen no independent evidence either way as to whether it poses a risk or not.

    Cut the carp, stick to facts, please. Or go back to watching Big Brother or whatever.

  34. Joni Kähärä

    Re: Re: don't quite understand it

    EMC, not EMP..

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget the example of MRSA...

    ...which shows that people won't even wash their hands after taking a dump, let alone switch off their mobiles. It just seems we're a country of malevolent sub-morons, who like to boost our own chances on this earth, by lowering others'.

    Actually, is this just Britain, or are people like this everywhere, is the only escape, the final emigration 'upward'?

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its the kit....

    If a low power R/F field can disrupt life-support equipment then the problem is with the life-support equipment. No "ifs", "ands" and "buts" -- the stuff is dangerous. Part of the testing of industrial equipment involves hitting it with unwanted electrostatic discharges and various fields because you can't just switch it off and grumble if it misbehaves. It has to work.

    Such reports would be believable if there wasn't this problem with PatientLine -- its a monopoly charging unrealistic prices that does what any monopoly does in this age of free-market capitalism -- it restricts the competition to maintain its market.

  37. Aubry Thonon


    Do I believe a mobile phone will cause a computer to crash? No

    Do I believe a mobile phone can introduce spurious spikes in a data line? Yes.

    Come on - we are talking about an active device (unlike a pager which is passive) which tries to send digital information to a tower quite some distance away. It *will* induce interference to some degree, with the equipments' response varying from "not-noticeable" to "dance the fandango" based on manufacturing requirements. I have seen some computers not batt an eyelid (so to speak) when submitted to a mobile phone at close range. I have seen others BSOD (brand sounds like hell) after their speakers gave the usual "mobile pops".

    But I do know that I for one will fight to keep the "turn off your mobile phone before take-offs/landings" rule on airplanes.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shouty nurse...

    I was taking the missus to the WRVS tea bar down a large corridor in out patients when a door flew open and a nurse shouts 'Who's using a bloody mobile phone? Switch it off now!' Startled guy at least 5 metres away hurriedly switches off. So something must have been affected, and in a recognisable way. Also, I have seen CRT console displays disrupted when an engineers phone rings, though that was generally a lot less than 3 metres.


  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Clueless (pagers NOT ALL PASSIVE)

    Just as a note: There are actually quite a few two-way pagers out there, and I'm not just talking about the ones that LOOK like two way pagers. Message receipt verification can only be done with two way pagers, and I've known a couple docs who carried them. This probably had something to do with the rather spotty pager coverage in the area. In fairness, they were both established private physcians, and neither of them were regularly in an ICU.

    On the other hand, I also spent several years in a small city with at least one hospital that allowed mobiles in general, and banned them only from specific areas of the hospital. I never heard of a problem, though honestly, it's not likely I would have - there are times I think the coverup is THE knee-jerk response to a serious problem in the modern medical community.

  40. kain preacher


    But I do know that I for one will fight to keep the "turn off your mobile phone before take-offs/landings" rule on airplanes.

    Do you know airplanes are shielded and tested to make sure that it can not be affect by radio waves/microwaves . THat is why some airliners allow the use of cell phones.

    THe real reason for the ban was pushed by the cell phone companies. On the ground you light up one tower, when you fly over you light up multiple towers

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The issues

    In all the years I have previously worked as a doctor, all my colleagues have carried mobile phones while oncall. Infact, I find it amusing that the Trust orders doctors to keep their mobiles switched on but stops relatives from using it.

    Patient Line is extortionate. My father stayed in hospital in 2005 for a serious condition. He died in December 2005. Patientline kept the money. It cost me more than £100 to keep patientline going for him for a period of one week. The system eats money like no other. Only the rich can afford Patient Line. It is indeed a money making scheme.

    Dr Rita Pal

  42. This post has been deleted by its author

  43. Gordon


    It certainly seems a very "journalistic" experiment.

    I would argue that anything that does not NEED to be unshielded ought to be shielded to resist something as common as a mobile signal. Anything that DOES need to be unshielded ought to be put in a special ward where mobiles (including police radios and doctors phones, except pagers) are completely banned.

    I think what we have here is a very, very small problem being blown out of all proportion so that the patientline guys and hospital admins can make a mint. But that's the NHS today for you, where you need to pay 2.20 for park for a 20 mins consultation. Of course you could pay just the 50p for 30 mins, but how do you know how long you're going to be when you park?

    It's all a scam.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Profit - not patient care!

    Is Patientline used throughout the UK? Here in Scotland, I made and received calls and texts, while hooked up to several monitors in the cardiac unit. I asked first, and staff said they'd received a directive that mobiles were safe to use on the wards. Surely the comfort of being able to contact their family must help patients recover quicker and release beds earlier, so saving the NHS £millions per year. Someone mentioned MRSA. The fear of superbugs is such that everyone must spray their hands on entry and on leaving the ward, and visitors are requested not to sit on patients beds or put belongings such as handbags on beds or near the patient. So, if touching bedding is dangerous, why should anyone be asked to risk catching one of the superbugs from a shared public phone. How often are they disinfected anyway? Thank goodness, a forward thinking hospital permitted me to use my mobile.

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