The UK’s major mobile operators are to allow customers to access NHS advice about coronavirus for free.
EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have all agreed to let customers go to www.nhs.uk and 111.nhs.uk without any data costs.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the initiative was designed to ensure that everyone could get verified and up-to-date NHS information and advice on the Covid-19 outbreak.
Free access to online NHS services will be available for as long as Covid-19 was prevalent in the UK, the department said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “In the face of the continued spread of coronavirus, it is vital everybody can access the latest verified public health advice on the NHS website when they need to – so everyone knows exactly what they should be doing to keep themselves and others safe.
“We have been clear this must be a national effort and so I’m delighted that mobile companies will be offering free data to browse NHS.uk.
“This will ensure everyone can access the guidance they need and avoid dangerous misinformation, without incurring data charges, and is an important contribution to the next stage of our plan to delay the spread of the virus.”
Major online platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Google have already changed their search result settings to display NHS and other health organisation advice at the top of search results linked to the outbreak in an effort to promote official guidance.
Patrick Binchy, chief technology officer at Three UK, said: “The NHS and its workers are at the forefront of the country’s fight against coronavirus.
“Access to information is vital at this time and we are happy to do our bit by zero-rating data and calls to NHS services.”
Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery added that “fast and reliable access to health information” had never been more important.
“That is why we are doing everything in our power to help our nation through this health crisis,” he said.
“We know it is our job to keep the UK connected, from giving customers free access to NHS online services to adding capacity to our broadband and mobile networks, and increasing the level of technical support for the emergency and other critical services.”
Marc Allera, chief executive of BT’s consumer division, which owns EE, said: “Now more than ever, it’s critical to provide access to up-to-date healthcare information about coronavirus so we’re making sure all of our customers can access the NHS online without using any of the data in their plan, even if they’ve run out of data.”