Exposed: Maternity Unit Security Fiasco; Special Mail Investigation at the Height of the Baby-Snatch Alert This Week, Daily Mail Reporters Put Vigilance to the Test in Hospitals across Britain.With Disturbing Results
DISTURBING lapses in maternity ward security have been exposed at two out of three hospitals in a Daily Mail investigation.
Just days after the snatch of two-day-old Elizabeth Rice from her mother's hospital bedside in Stourbridge, West Midlands, our reporters were able to wander unchallenged through wards at a dozen hospitals across Britain.
With staff supposedly on heightened alert, we wandered freely past CCTV cameras and through security systems incorporating hi-tech intercoms and self-locking doors.
Our team visited 19 hospitals in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Kent, Hampshire, Surrey and Essex and gained easy access to 12.
At one, the North Hampshire in Basingstoke, the maternity unit had no obvious measures to prevent baby-snatchers. Our reporter was able to wander among new mothers and their children unchecked on four occasions.
Another investigator went to the Heartland Hospital in Birmingham where she was able to pose for photographs in a room containing newborn babies.
At a third unit we heard a nurse tell a couple who tried to enter: 'You'll have to buzz to go in because of all these babies going walkies'. Our reporter had entered the same way ten minutes earlier completely unchallenged.
Not all hospitals were so lax. At London's Chelsea and Westminster, where Cherie Blair gave birth to Leo, visitors are turned away unless they can tell staff, who have access to patient computer records, the name of the person they are there to see.
Last night Mike Stone of the Patients' Association described our findings as 'truly shocking' and urged the Department of Health to investigate. 'Time and time again we are told that lessons have been learned, but your investigation proves they still haven't,' he said.
'While I'm sure many hospitals have exemplary standards of security, patients shouldn't have to worry if theirs is among them.' Louise Silverton, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: 'Your findings are very worrying. There is a delicate balance between good security and not making mothers feel like they are in a prison.
'Nursing staff and midwives should always be on their guard and have the confidence to challenge anyone. But responsibility for security should not rest on their shoulders entirely. Trusts must do more to help.
'Giving birth is a stressful enough experience and it is important that new mothers be reassured that their babies are safe. No price can be put on peace of mind.' Earlier this year the Government made ?100million available to hospital maternity units to spend as they wish.
Sources close to Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: 'What happened in the Midlands this week is rare but lessons have to be learnt. These findings are extremely worrying. Hospital trusts obviously need to re-examine their security procedures.'
Royal Bolton Hospital, Manchester
THERE was a security system on the door into which a number had to be punched by staff.
However two helpful male visitors were leaving the ward as our reporter arrived and held the door open for her to enter.
Inside, there was an unmanned reception desk and we were able to walk down a corridor off which there were several rooms containing mothers and newborn babies.
Our reporter was able to look into the rooms and watched one young mother bathing her baby. At no time was she challenged by staff despite the fact that it was 1pm and visiting hours were between 2.30 and 4pm.
A hospital spokesman said: 'The safety of babies is of the utmost importance to us. As well as having electronic locks and an intercom on the wards, the babies are tagged and mothers are encouraged to keep babies with them at all times.
'We have a wide range of other security measures including CCTV to keep our babies safe.'
North Hampshire Hospital, Basingstoke
OUR reporter was able to walk straight out of the car park, through an unlocked set of doors at the entrance to the maternity unit and on to the Stallworthy Ward. …