Cash is being made available from a £1bn technology fund to improve a patchy service – with some hospitals at present charging for access and others not providing Wi-Fi at all.
The move was recommended in a report commissioned by the government and Martha Lane Fox, when she was the UK’s digital champion, on improving the use of online technology in the health service. It will allow patients to stay in contact more easily with family and friends as well as keeping themselves entertained.
Officials believe it will also encourage the use of technologies that could greatly cut paperwork and errors, and help alert doctors and nurses to medical problems.
Mobile clinical systems and tablets have replaced paper charts in some hospitals, allowing potentially problematic changes in vital signs to be more quickly spotted and acted on, and for data to be shared around the building.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said greater use of e-prescribing could reduce medication errors by 50%. Patients could also wear monitors to alert medical staff to issues, which could help the more than one-fifth of diabetics said to have experienced a “largely avoidable” hypoglycemic episode while in hospital.
Mr Hunt said: “Everyone using the NHS expects it to be a world leader in digital healthcare and free Wi-Fi is an essential part of making that a reality. It will give patients and staff the ability to access the services they need as well as freeing up clinical time and reducing overall costs.”