Suffolk: Warning over hospital security measures as hundreds of patients go missing

Dr Dan Poulter MP says security measures at hospitals may need improving after it was revealed hundr

Dr Dan Poulter MP says security measures at hospitals may need improving after it was revealed hundreds of patients have gone missing. - Credit: Archant

A health minister last night warned hospital security measures might need “tightening up” after figures revealed hundreds of patients – including those suffering from mentally illness – have gone missing in Suffolk.

A total of 2,029 people went missing from hospitals, secured wards for mentally ill patients and under private and social services care between 2007 and 2012 in the county.

The figures, released under freedom of information laws, showed patients go missing every three days at Suffolk hospitals on average. Sectioned mental health patients go missing nearly every 12 days in the county on average.

Junior health minister and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, Dr Dan Poulter, admitted security measures at hospitals may need improving – but insisted “patients cannot be handcuffed to their beds”.

He said: “Our hospitals do a pretty good job with their security measures but there are some things that may have to be looked into and they might have to further tighten up procedures to make sure people are stopped from escaping.

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“What is worrying is that there are patients who are vulnerable or who suffer from mental health problems escaping hospital wards.

“These are vulnerable and extremely depressed people with severe health problems who need help, and when they leave they are a danger to themselves. They at risk of harming themselves and the public – although the public risk is minimal.

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“We will have to see what more can be done but hospitals work very hard with police and other organisation to track them down and it is important that they are further supported and cared for upon their return.

“But hospitals are not prisons – patients cannot be handcuffed to their beds. It is not an armed compound.

“And some decide, against medical advice, to leave on their own accord – like in A&E in the middle of a course of treatment – and you can’t forcibly stop them from doing so.”

The figures revealed 170 sectioned mental health patients – and 88 voluntary mental health patients – were recorded as missing.

Debbie White, director of operations in Suffolk at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said the foundation treats patient safety very seriously.

“In the rare cases where patients go missing the Trust has a robust policy and protocol in place to support a prompt and proportionate response,” she added.

“In such cases we would work closely with Suffolk Constabulary to ensure the safe return of the patient. Upon their return the clinical team would review the person’s care and discuss any further interventions that need to be taken.

“The Trust monitors incidents of missing patients carefully to identify any actions that need to be taken to protect our patients from harm.”

A total of 382 patients went missing at hospitals in Ipswich, including Ipswich Hospital and other NHS in-patient facilities such as Woodlands Centre and Minsmere House.

An Ipswich Hospital spokesman said: “We treat and care for around 400,000 people each year throughout the hospital and the number of people reported ‘missing’ each year is very tiny – less than 10 each year.

“The vast majority of patients are in hospital voluntarily and as such they are free to leave should they choose to do so – the exception is for patients who are admitted under ‘section’ for their own safety and well-being.

“We do have policies and procedures in place to cover missing patients. A wide range of actions are put in place if a patient is reported missing from a ward or clinic area.

“These include a thorough search of all hospital buildings and grounds, informing the person’s next of kin and contacting the police.”

It was also revealed 810 people under social services care and 204 people in private care went missing in Suffolk.

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