Security doors on children's wards 'could cost lives'

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The Independent Online
LIZ HUNT Medical Correspondent

New measures to improve security on children's wards could cost lives because of delays in administering emergency treatment, doctors are warning.

An anaesthetist called to help to resuscitate a child who had stopped breathing found his way barred by a new security-coded door lock. Four minutes elapsed before he got access to the ward to help to treat the child. The child was later transferred to Great Ormond Street hospital for Sick Children in London.

The incident at the Princess Alexandra Trust hospital in Harlow, Essex, last March, has implications for every hospital under pressure to improve security after a spate of baby abductions, missing patients, stalkers, bogus nurses and doctors, and even murder, according to a letter in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal.

Drs Jeffrey Phillips and Michelle Soskin from the trust's department of anaesthesia say they recognise the importance of security but "urge those responsible for installing new systems to consider the implications for emergencies".

They describe how the cardiac team was called to the paediatric ward at the hospital when an asthmatic child stopped breathing.

"The anaesthetics registrar [Dr Phillips] ran towards the ward but found the corridor was blocked by a door operated by a number code, which had been installed earlier that week. Not knowing the code and being unable to attract attention, the registrar took a circuitous route through another security door for which he knew the code.

"Overall, there was an estimated four-minute delay before the child was attended by the cardiac team." Such delays were life-threatening in resuscitation incidences, the doctors said.

A spokesman for the Princess Alexandra hospital described the incident as a "gap in our procedures" which had since been resolved. He said that Dr Phillips did not usually work at the hospital. "He panicked a bit I think when he hit the door and went running around the place." All calls to Dr Phillips were being referred to the hospital spokesman yesterday.

After the incident, hospital managers are now using the same code on all security doors, and the number is printed on stickers attached to bleeps carried by the staff. The spokesman said the child's transfer to Great Ormond Street was unrelated to the incident, and the child was discharged a few days later.

In their letter, Dr Phillips and Dr Soskin recommend installing a central over-ride system, an over-ride button on each door that sounds an alarm indicating that security has been breached, or a system using swipe cards.

Hospital security is now a major issue triggered by the abduction of babies from maternity units around the country. Earlier this year, Lydia Owens was taken from the Glan Clywd hospital in Glamorgan, and Abbie Humphries was taken from the Queen's Medical Centre, in Nottingham, in July last year. Many hospitals have introduced tagging systems which trigger an alarm if the baby is taken through a hospital exit.

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