Reviews Soundings

Just call me

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 12 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:127
  1. James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology
  1. Leeds

    Like all consultants, I have a mobile phone. It never ceases to amaze me. Its batteries seem to last forever and no matter how many times it falls out of my top pocket when I bend over, it continues to work.

    It does not take pictures, receive emails, open like a powder compact, sound like a frog, or play “Delilah” during meetings, but it does do texting. This means that my tutorial group can send me messages saying “U R L8. WHERE R U?” from deep within our medical school's labyrinthine teaching centre.

    Our hospital, by contrast, has red notices in the corridors forbidding the use of mobiles “except medical emergency.” I asked a midwife why. She said it was because mobiles were annoying. We agreed that in our experience they didn't stop drips or make monitors explode, but none the less the NHS prefers to summon doctors by bleep.

    Bleeps are different from mobiles. Mobiles upset everybody within earshot, but bleeps only upset their owners. Bleeps are like babies—they make an insistent noise but cannot understand when you talk to them. I now leave mine in my sock drawer. (My bleep, that is.)

    My mobile number is given out to just a few people and jealously guarded by the switchboard and my secretary. When I write it on the labour ward board I am gently chided. What if a patient sees it and copies it down?

    Patients should know their place and stick to land lines. This is a challenge. In the past, you could rarely get through to a hospital, but nowadays calls are promptly connected—to recorded menus, music-on-hold, or voicemail—or surreptitiously rerouted to distant places, sometimes in another time zone.

    What if we really want a patient to contact us? Even if she rings the right extension, it may be answered by a random passer by. We should do what the community midwives do, and give her our mobile number.

    Generally we don't, fearing intrusion into our personal lives. So it's time for the NHS to start issuing us all with mobiles. As all calls are automatically logged it should be easy for the hospital trust to charge the appropriate primary care trust for our valuable time. It will mean having to carry two phones, but that should be no problem, unless we bend over.

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