Those who know me will be aware that I have been campaigning for free patient access to wifi in NHS hospitals for more than 10 years. For most of that time I felt like a voice in the wilderness. In recent years the support has gathered, and, in the last year at least, it has felt like there was a momentum behind the idea.
And now…. the moment has not yet arrived, but the door is open. Today, Martha Lane Fox published her “Digital Recommendations for the NHS“. Among the recommendations are that all health staff should have digital skills, AND, that there should be free wifi for staff and patients across the NHS estate.
I know from experience that there is a long distance between recommendation and implementation, particularly in an NHS which is actually made up of a plethora of autonomous units. But the recommendation is there, and it has a budget behind it.
So, maybe the Campaign has won. But still join it any way here to make sure the momentum is maintained.
We are nearly there!
I’m relatively optimistic that we will see significant progress towards wifi in hospitals becoming the norm in the not too distant future, particularly as recent NHS announcements seem to be indicating an exploration of allowing the public (or “patients”) to access wifi across the whole of the NHS estate. There have been some conflicting messages on this, with some suggestions that the wifi ambition is limited to staff access. But I believe it will not stop at that.
That doesn’t mean we need to be complacent, as one of the big issues is that the autonomy of individual institutions makes it next to impossible to mandate common procedures across what is a massive organisation. But I am confident the tipping point will soon be reached when it becomes an anomaly that a hospital lacks free patient wifi, such that public pressure will cause the laggards to come to the party.
Around a third of NHS hospitals (and virtually all private hospitals) in the UK now have patient wifi. And despite the doom merchants and the gatekeepers, nothing bad has happened. I still come across the old arguments about patient wifi interfering with equipment (as if patient wifi is a different flavour of wifi to that used by staff), being expensive to deploy (not true), or offering a backdoor route into compromising patient confidentiality (can anyone point me to an example of this happening?). If any of these arguments were true do you not think there would be a story about them in the Daily Mail every day? There isn’t, because it doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen in the one third of hospitals which have patient wifi, why should it happen in the other two-thirds? And you can also bet the the private hospitals which have patient wifi have done it for reasons concerned with patient satisfaction.
Being cut off from regular contact with the outside world is a significant stress factor when you are in hospital. Patient wifi thus has a therapeutic benefit, and to deny it is to delay people’s recovery. Thus, it is probably true that lack of patient wifi is costing the NHS in terms of longer stays in hospital.
I’ll be testing some of this out myself shortly as I embark on the DigiWards project. In the mean time, if you haven’t already, please join the Campaign for Free Hospital Wifi, use the #hospitalwifi hashtag on twitter, and help us keep up the pressure.