Free public Wi-Fi access is often seen as the norm, yet NHS hospitals are lagging behind other public places in offering this.

When long-term patient Jack Driver, 12, spoke to the board at Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, he had one wish that would make his frequent hospital stays better.

Free Wi-Fi access was his goal, and the board members were so impressed they made a major investment in the 46-acre one-site hospital.

“We have a patient story at every board meeting and Jack talked about how difficult it was for him and his parents to pay for Wi-Fi access every time he stayed on the children’s ward,” says Jan Ingles, head of external relations.

“His greatest joy was Minecraft and he said his life would be improved if he could have free Wi-Fi access, and the board took the decision to make that happen.

“Patients can keep in touch with home and we have streaming available in the school room on the children’s ward.

“People are very appreciative although I think because it’s the norm everywhere else they often expect it.”

While stories like Jack’s are positive for many patients, free public Wi-Fi access in hospitals is patchy nationally.

In December last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged that all NHS buildings would offer free Wi-Fi to enable it to become a world leader in digital healthcare.

The plans will be made possible using a £1bn technology fund and is part of the move for the NHS to be digital and paperless by 2020.

READ MORE: NHS of future will let patients view own medical history

Free Wi-Fi was introduced at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which has four sites, in the summer of 2014.

Brendan Mahony, associate director IT, says it was something they had wanted to offer patients, staff and visitors for some time.

“I feel it is important to provide free Wi-Fi because so many people stay connected with their friends and family via social media and web-based messaging services,” he says.

“Purple Wi-Fi is available in all public areas of the hospital including the restaurant, outpatients, accident and emergency and fracture clinic.

“It’s also really easy to access and users only need to set it up once on their phones, tablets or laptops.”

Purple Wi-Fi founder Gavin Wheeldon

Purple Wi-Fi founder Gavin Wheeldon

At Ipswich, the network introduced thanks to Jack’s speech to the board allows patients to keep in touch with the outside world via emails and websites, although it doesn’t have the bandwidth to allow streaming free of charge.

“It was quite a journey because we had contractual obligations with the provider of the paid-for service that we had to negotiate, but we were determined to do it,” Ingles says.

“It’s an ongoing investment and we’re upgrading access because we’ve a long way to go before it’s sophisticated, but our priority is to make life better for anyone coming into the hospital.

“We don’t use any of the intelligence but there will be opportunities in the future because technology changes very quickly.”

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The Department of Health said there was no update to the December 2015 announcement when contacted by BusinessCloud. 

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