Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Head To Head

Should all NHS premises provide free access to wi-fi?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 12 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4098

Rapid Response:

Re: Should all NHS premises provide free access to wi-fi?

Just a jobbing GP, I have seen a number of people over the years with headaches and poor sleep - which have got better by minimising unnecessary exposure to cordless phones, wifi and other RF (radiofrequency or microwave) devices, and returned when re-exposed. It is always good to remove an avoidable cause (like a stone in your shoe causing pain in the foot) rather than just treating the symptoms.

This interest has led me to become a trustee of the charity ES-UK, (Electro-sensitivity UK, and meet a number of people severely affected by transmitting technology, to the point where some of them have to give up their jobs, and a few even avoid contact with much of life as we all take for granted. To me, the technology of wifi and the like is wonderful - but, it has been rolled out on the flawed presumption that it is harm-free.

Affected people experience symptoms from exposure to RF transmissions, which include headaches, brain fog, inability to think clearly, speech disturbance, palpitations, sleep disturbance, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo, odd pains and tinglings in limbs - and interestingly ants exposed to wifi lose their ability to forage and die, amongst other creatures affected by non-thermal effects. Prevalence in the population is estimated at 3-5%, mainly undiagnosed.

Unfortunately, there is a common misperception that this is due to a nocebo effect - but the sham used in some trials was actually biologically active. CFS/ME and the Gulf War syndrome were both initially thought to be psychological disturbances by some investigators, since disproved.

The Austrian Medical Association has published guidelines on the topic

It is unfortunate that transmitting technology is so useful, and so widespread - because this leads us all to believe that it cannot be harmful. However, in the insurance industry Lloyds of London have withdrawn health liability cover for wifi routers.

Current UK safety limits for RF are based upon the flawed misapprehension that non-thermal = non-harmful, and at present there are no plans to review this. Basically, if it doesn’t start to cook you in six minutes, it’s safe…..

It has been known for well over 30 years that there are non-thermal (signal) effects of RF. Russian and other safety limits are much lower than UK. Non-thermal biological effects of exposure to RF (microwave) signal include increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, failure of repair of DNA breaks, heat shock protein synthesis, cellular calcium efflux, sympathetic upregulation and others. RF is currently classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Class 2b possible carcinogen. Other research shows adverse effects on semen quality amongst other biological effects.

History tells us that technological advance ALWAYS precedes safety considerations in all industries (see use of car safety belts, Xrays and asbestos for example), and the rollout of 24 hour transmitting wifi, cordless phones, and other technology has been on the presumption of no harm.

Management of ES is currently problematical – but must include a minimising of the exposure to the person. It is not helpful to ignore them, especially as they may already be in conflict with family members who refuse to believe that there can be a problem (on the basis that 1 they are unaffected and 2 they cannot understand how something that is outside their own experience, and that you cannot see hear touch taste or smell can be harmful). However, physiological effects can occur from the electromagnetic spectrum not sensed by our specialised organs of sense – whilst within the spectrum of detection, our eyes are capable to detecting light intensity down to a single photon, and our ears a billionth of a watt – these are also non-thermal effects). Organisms have been magnetosensitive for over 2 billion years, so it would not be surprising to find that humans also are sensitive to fields perceived as noxious!

Consideration for people who are ES will ensure a precautionary principle is used, and should ensure that all NHS premises provide designated shielded clinical and care areas where signal is at a minimum as measured by detectors - this will include attending staff putting devices onto airplane mode. Education about the issue is important, otherwise health staff will manage the affected person to the detriment of their health. and have useful material, whilst an excellent scientific overview is from Dr Erica Mallery-Blythe on, complemented by the Bristol University site from Prof Denis Henshaw

Competing interests: Trustee of ES-UK charity, (Electro-sensitivity UK Co-author with Michael Bevington of Electrosensitivity, Symptoms, Sources and Solutions, Chapter 47 in Textbook of Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine, ed Rosch P, CRC Press 2015

22 August 2015
Andrew PT Tresidder
Somerset sessional GP
Ilminster, Somerset