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A row has broken out between doctors and the Department of Health over the use of mobile phones in hospitals.

At the British Medical Association's annual conference, Dr Simon Calvert, a specialist registrar at King's College Hospital in London, told the assembled physicians that there was no justification for banning mobile phones.

He argues that emergency services radios have a much greater risk of interfering with essential equipment, yet are allowed into resuscitation units and intensive care rooms, the BBC reports. He cited a 1997 study, which found mobiles only affected four per cent of devices, and only 0.1 per cent were seriously affected. "We haven't moved on in 30 years. Mobile phones seem to be the pariah of the wards, with threats of disciplinary action on any staff using them," he said.

The Department of Health, however, maintains that the ban is necessary. It said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found that mobile phones could interfere with sensitive medical devices, particularly at short range.

However, doctors insisted that the rules were over-cautious, and dated back to the days of analogue phones.

It is possible that there are arguments other than safety for keeping mobiles off the wards: Some hospitals charge patients a daily fee to have a phone by their beds, and charge premium rates for family to dial in, for example. It will also be interesting to see how hospitals respond to the closure of pager services, such as the one run by O2, which closed this week.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health concluded: "The MHRA advises that trusts make a decision about the use of phones in hospitals dependent on individual circumstances." ®

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