As Europe’s largest employer, the NHS has a responsibility to protect its staff from violence or abuse at work. Threats to patients and staff can be considerably reduced by the intelligent use of security procedures, security personnel and technology - and maximising the benefit of security is incredibly important.
A main component of a hospital’s crime risk is the presence of large, transitory populations, which makes it difficult in most cases to control access and identify trespassers. This basic vulnerability combines with several other factors, such as the possession of large amounts of property attractive to thieves and often emotionally charged conditions, to greatly enhance the risks of dishonesty and personal violence. The total impact of these circumstances is impossible to quantify, since a lot of crime in hospitals goes unreported.
Some general statistics are available. It has been estimated that crime costs the NHS more than £1 million every week and the principal employees union, Unison, has said that almost nine out of ten health service staff worry about violence at work. Nurses are amongst the most at risk categories, facing the highest risk of violence of any occupational group except police officers. This high level of vulnerability also applies to lone health service workers making home visits, indicating the need to extend security planning beyond the immediate hospital environment.
Each of these threats can be significantly reduced by intelligent security solutions, although no amount of security technology can control crime unless it is suitable for its purpose, properly installed, correctly sited, well maintained, effectively operated, routinely reviewed in the light of changing risks and backed up by a wider culture of awareness and training.
It is important to understand that the physical design of hospital premises has an influence on the prevalence of crime. Sometimes it is possible to reduce crime by altering these so-called situational factors. A simple example of this can be found in many older hospitals, where outdated car parking provision frequently results in a proliferation of small, isolated parking areas which are virtually impossible to protect cost-effectively. Not surprisingly, the opportunity to work unobserved and with little risk of interruption attracts thieves, as well as posing particular risks to drivers parking at night in remote parts of the grounds. Several hospitals have now addressed this problem by changing the use of available land to provide fewer, larger parking areas that can be protected cost-effectively by the combined use of lighting, security patrolling and modern closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems.
CCTV is also a valuable security tool inside hospitals. A cutting edge digital CCTV system supplied by one BSIA member is helping to improve security for staff and patients at Basildon Hospital in Essex. The NHS Foundation Trust upgraded its analogue set up for digital video recorders.
Across the hospital’s three sites - Basildon Hospital itself, its adjacent maternity unit and a day care unit 10 miles away at Orsett - more than 100 cameras are now in place internally and externally at key sites including car parks. In the past, only 30 cameras covered the hospital with each of the sites using a different system.
All the cameras at the various sites link back to a central CCTV control room, where they can be viewed on PCs via the
hospital’s computer network. The system offers the hospital 30 days of storage space and high quality images. With 24 hour recording, the security manager can go back any time over the last 30 days and view what happened from any of the cameras, gaining crucial evidence with respect to incidents that have occured.
Protect and reassure
Access control systems, intruder alarms and panic buttons with remote monitoring reduce the risks of “walk-in” theft and undetected burglary or robbery, whilst portable panic buttons can help both to protect and reassure individual members of staff. Electronic tagging systems can reduce the risks of undetected infant abduction, given that the common failure to attach tags securely is overcome by adequate training and supervision.
Another important aspect of security in the nation’s hospitals is property marking - the permanent identification of items to deter thieves. As criminals can be linked to the crime and can be caught and convicted, property marking is a powerful deterrent.
Property is uniquely marked and a corresponding number or code may be registered on a master database. This can also enable stolen property to be returned to its rightful owner. One BSIA member company estimates that it provides some 85 per cent of UK hospitals with permanent visual marking sytems. Further advancement in this field has allowed hospitals to employ DNA-like security marking systems.
Used in conjunction with the warning and window stickers supplied, an adhesive glue is applied to any valuable items of property. Once applied, removal of all the DNA marking from an item is almost impossible, as it is difficult to locate (except with a UV lamp) and remnants of the DNA will easily remain in crevices and uneven surfaces. The DNA code along with the customer’s details are held on a secure database, thereby allowing recovered property to be traced back to its rightful owner after analysis - even a tiny molecule of glue can be used to determine who the item really belongs to. This can be applied to valuable assets, such as IT equipment, televisions, microwaves and even walking frames.
In each of these aspects of hospital security, the key issue is professional on-site advice about the identification and reduction of risk. Effective security solutions do not come in ready-made, off-the-shelf formats, they need to be tailored to individual buildings and circumstances. This is true of security guarding services, in-house staff training and security technology alike.
The interface between security guarding services and technology is critical, since the means to detect problems must obviously go hand-in-hand with the ability to respond to them. Some locations, for example, can be well protected by alarms and cameras monitored from a remote location, combined, in some cases, with a programme of random patrol visits. Although hospitals will generally warrant a permanent security team, well-planned integration with security and communications technology can be cost-effective.
As indicated previously, most locations have unique characteristics that demand unique security solutions. Identifying these conditions is the first element of risk assessment because doing so defines the scale of the problem and highlights the need to address specific issues. Even though it is difficult to generalise, some key principles are widely applicable, for example:
Paying the price
The hospital environment is a challenging area to secure, but a measured approach incorporating professionally trained security personnel and modern security equipment can create a safer working environment, and a culture where crime – in whatever form – is not tolerated. There is no question that an investment in quality security is an investment worth making.
The British Security Industry Association is the only trade association that covers all aspects of the professional security industry in the UK. Its 570+ members provide over 70 per cent of UK security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards.
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