Most of the good hospitals anticipating these problems, generally advise the patients/ public through notices displayed prominently, against bringing any valuables to hospital as the management cannot assure their protection.
Although, the hospital managements try to ensure the safety of patients and their belongings, patients generally are expected to take adequate precautions to prevent any thefts of their belongings.
With these measures and a good understanding by the patients/attendants, the thefts of patients’ property can be checked and controlled.
However, the problem occurs more in serious cases who are rushed to the hospital in emergency and have valuables including jewelry on their person. The problem is even bigger in cases of unconscious patients brought by the neighbors or the bystanders such as in road traffic accidents.
Patient being unconscious and without any relatives, the staff on duty have to remove and secure the patient’s valuables.
In these situations many times, the patient, on recovery, or his relatives on arrival, claim that the valuables carried on the patient’s person are missing and start blaming the staff for the theft.
Author, in his personal experience of managing the hospitals, has come across many such cases. In one case, the valuables of a lady were handed over to her adult daughter who was fully satisfied and signed the receipt.
However, 2 to 3 months after the discharge, the husband of the lady complained that the jewelry returned to them was fake jewelry.
He insisted that the jewelry worn by his wife at the time of admission was real gold and the same should be returned to them.
In such situations, there is no way of finding the truth and there is hardly anything the management can do.
Whenever a critically sick patient is brought in an emergency, the staff gets busy at full speed to resuscitate the patient and save his life. Safety of the patient’s belongings, important though, is not the first priority on their minds.
The clothes and valuables such as the watch, the jewelry, the wallet and other things are quickly removed by the nurse with the help of the ward boys/ayas (HK staff) to proceed with the life saving treatment without any delay.
Once the patient’s condition is stabilized, the nurse attends to the patient’s valuables and secures them as per the policy/procedure in force in the hospital.
Carelessness in removing and securing the patients belongings may occur sometimes while attempting to vigorously resuscitate the patient base instincts such as stealing and pocketing the property of a dying patient are unlikely though a rogue staffer indulging in such criminal behavior cannot be totally ruled out.
Similarly, in the wards, visited by many visitors daily, chances of somebody picking up and walking away a patient’s watch or a mobile phone, cannot be completely eliminated, especially in case of some patients who are in the habit of keeping their things in a careless manner.
It is virtually impossible to keep a watch over the belongings of every patient round the clock.
Sometimes, no doubt the house keeping staffs are involved in such criminal activities, but more often it is the rogue visitors who do not hesitate even from walking away with someone’s shoes or slippers.
In one hospital, after a spate of thefts of mobile phones, the security services were able to nab a gang of professional thieves operating in the hospital.
Generally, unless detected immediately, it is very difficult to prevent or solve these crimes and every such instance of theft puts the hospital in a spot. It is, therefore, important that
the management of every hospital adopts an effective policy and procedure for preventing and managing such untoward situations.
Some of the measures that can prove helpful if sincerely implemented are outlined below:
1. Hospital should have a clear documented policy about safety of patients’ property. The same should be included in the hospital security manual and should be communicated to patients and public through the medium of notices prominently displayed in the OPD/ A and E, Reception as well as in the wards.
2. At the time of admission the patients/relatives should be advised to send the valuables back to home or else take care of their property themselves.
3. For safety of belongings of emergency cases who are unattended or unconscious, the hospital should have an SOP.
There should be a system of safe keeping of the items with the security officer who should have a locker and a register for maintenance of record of the patients’ property
Immediately on arrival of the patient, the nurse should call the security officer, get the list of items recorded in the patients’ property register, have it signed by the security officer, the person escorting the patient to hospital and countersign it herself.
In case of jewelry, effort should be made to identify whether it is gold or imitation and correct details recorded.
Otherwise the item should be put in an envelope and the envelope should be sealed and signed by all. As soon as the patient regains consciousness, he should be informed of the items and told to arrange for sending them home.
Items should be handed over to the patient/his correctly identified relatives in the presence of another neutral witness and signatures of all, along with contact address, obtained on the register.
4. having an effective security service outsourced to a reputed professional security agency and controlled by own experienced security officer and supervisor in every shift. This is one service where the manpower requirement must be decided on the basis of a realistic detailed survey of the hospital.
Savings on cutting down the requirement by even one person may not be a prudent decision because even one weak/unattended spot may prove to be a security hazard.
5. CCTV cameras with good resolution, revolving or placed at the right angles and covering all the sensitive areas have become an inescapable requirement.
The security staff should be actually monitoring the various areas at the monitor in the control room. The recordings of the camera may also provide valuable help in identifying the culprits.
6. Whenever the patient’s room is to be left unattended such as while going for investigations, the patient should be advised to either leave a visitor in the room or inform the sister so that the room can be locked during the period.
7. Whenever, theft of a patient’s property is reported, the security organization should immediately start investigations and carry out a thorough search including search of the staff suspected, if any, the individual lockers/bags as well as the waste bags, other likely areas where the items can be temporarily hidden.
In case, the item is costly and the security staffs are unable to recover it. The patient may be advised to lodge a complaint with the police and all assistance may be provided.