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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Q&A: Maternity security
The abduction of a newborn baby from a West Midlands hospital has once again raised questions about security at NHS maternity units.

BBC News Online examines how secure these units are and what steps are now being taken to ensure newborn babies are safe.

How secure are NHS maternity units?

Security at hospital maternity units varies widely across the country. This is largely because there are no fixed rules on what steps trusts must take.

In 1995, the Department of Health published guidelines recommending that hospitals introduce CCTV cameras and identity badges for all staff, and control access to maternity wards. It also suggested that all units adopt electronic tagging of babies.

However, the recommendations were not mandatory and no extra cash was provided to enable hospitals to implement them.

As a result, while most trusts now have controlled access to wards and CCTV cameras, many do not electronically tag babies.

Would tagging babies prevent abductions?

Opinion is divided on whether tagging babies would prevent further abductions. The tags are placed on a baby's wrist and set off an alarm if an attempt is made to move the child without permission.

Managers at Wordsley Hospital in the West Midlands - the site of this latest abduction - say they are now on the verge of introducing electronic tagging of babies.

However, other hospitals have adopted the scheme only to reject it later. They found that the tags could fall off and that the electronic systems could break down.

Will security be improved now?

The Department of Health says it is considering reviewing security guidelines in NHS maternity wards following the abduction at Wordsley Hospital.

Managers at the hospital are reviewing their own procedures.

However, there is wide agreement that no security measures are 100% fail-safe. If an individual desperately wants to abduct a baby they will try to get around even the most sophisticated procedures.

What are the implications for other trusts?

This latest abduction will no doubt prompt hospitals across the country to review security in their own maternity units.

While some trusts may now re-examine the case for introducing electronic tagging of babies, most will probably seek to beef up their existing procedures.

This could include a greater security presence at the entrance to units and improved checks on visitors. Most likely, it will lead to increased efforts by hospital managers to improve the awareness and vigilance of staff and patients.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Sophisticated detection devices aren't necessarily the answer"
The BBC's Sarah Sturdey tests hospital security
"I've walked straight through"
See also:

06 May 02 | England
Missing baby found safe and well
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