Thousands stolen in hospital thefts

CANISTERS of laughing gas, more than �5,000 from car park pay and display machines and medical supplies are just some of the items stolen from hospitals in Suffolk.

CANISTERS of laughing gas, more than �5,000 from car park pay and display machines and medical supplies are just some of the items stolen from hospitals in Suffolk.

The cost of the thefts is likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds and also includes laptops, a computer hard drive and personal belongings such as jewellery, mobile phones and cash.

Sue Hayter, director of patient safety and clinical quality for NHS Suffolk, described the thefts as 'distressing and damaging'.

She said: 'Patients are already in a vulnerable situation in hospital and it can be very upsetting to have personal things stolen. Hospitals and GP and dentists surgeries and other clinics are security conscious, with effective procedures. But by their very nature, they are open to members of the public who need medical care and their families and friends, so security is always a balance.'

The details have come to light following a Freedom of Information Act request covering hospitals in Suffolk for the last four financial years.

In that time the number of reported thefts has been 275 - including 56 between April and November this year, compared to 64 for the whole of 08/09.

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The most thefts have happened at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds with nine canisters of nitrous oxide - better known as laughing gas, two LCD 32in TVs each worth �3,200 and personal items including money, jewellery and wedding rings among the items that have gone missing.

Meanwhile since January this year a little over �5,200 has also been stolen in 14 separate incidents from car park pay and display machines.

At Ipswich Hospital drugs and equipment, money, credit and debit cards, a mountain bike, hand towels, a laptop, dentures and even car licence plates have all been taken.

At hospitals managed by NHS Suffolk - including Aldeburgh, Hartismere and Newmarket - medical supplies, a computer hard drive, cash, a laptop and oxygen cylinders have gone missing.

Last night hospital bosses said on site security was taken extremely seriously and they did everything they could to prevent staff, patients and visitors from becoming victims of crime,

Jim Pretty, security manager at West Suffolk Hospital, said: 'This includes working in close partnership with the police and part-funding a police community support officer, whose time is wholly dedicated to the hospital site.

'We also operate CCTV systems across our buildings and have invested extra resources in improving security around the areas where our gas cylinders are stored.'

He said the hospital had also introduced a secure paper based ticketing system for their car parks to replace pay and display machines.

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said there was a 24/7 presence on site, including two police officers and a community police station.

'We ask people not to bring any valuable items with them if they can possibly help it and if they do we ask that they are handed into a ward matron who can put them in a safe place,' she added. 'We have about 8,000 people every day on site so the number of thefts is actually a very small proportion of that number of people.

'What we have seen in the past is that we have had organised gangs of criminals who attend the hospital just as they would any other big building and they have pretended to be someone that they should not have been.'