However, in Britain, a series of thefts of expensive hospital equipment, some of which had to be dismantled before removal, has escalated in the last 12 months. This has led the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) security staff to issue a bulletin to hospital security managers to be on the alert.
Suspicion has grown that these thefts may be part of a lucrative trade in expensive medical equipment between organised criminals and developing countries. The NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service are working closely with the police, who are reported to be investigating around 30 similar thefts of medical equipment.
Size is not necessarily a problem
Thieves obviously find smaller equipment more portable, e.g. hip replacement instruments (value: £10,000) stolen from a hospital where, a year earlier, five laptop computers (value: £15,000) were stolen - and the eight endoscopic devices (value: £300,000) stolen as recently as December.
However, in February last year, two ultrasound scanners (value: £170,000), delivered for use in the out-patients maternity department at West Middlesex University Hospital, London, were stolen two days later. The department had been locked and evidence of a break-in was not found, giving rise to speculation that a stolen hospital swipe card had been used for entry. (The equipment: SSD Aloka 3500 Model Number MO2935 - serial number: 102935, and SSD Aloka 5000 Model Number MO2741 - serial number not recorded, but this system was equipped with a curvy linear trans-abdominal probe, and was the only machine of this type, in the UK, to have a Panasonic DVD attached).
Other thefts in 2005 include:
May - Thieves made off with £80,000 worth of cardiovascular equipment from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.
July - A £35,000 cardiovascular scanner was stolen from North Durham University Hospital.
October - (and in nine months of activities) thieves targeted Leicester General Hospital and Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, stealing endoscopy equipment. In 2004/05 Leicester hospitals reported 31 thefts of hospital equipment. The total value of stolen endoscopy equipment is estimated at around £250,000.
October - A 19 inch flat screen monitor, used for imaging CT scans and transmission for diagnoses to consultants in other hospitals, was stolen from Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow.
As far back as February 2003, NHS trusts were sent the first alert that valuable endoscopy equipment was being targeted by thieves. However, the NHS Security Management Service recently issued a reminder that endoscopy equipment appears to be particularly vulnerable to theft, and that staff must be particularly careful about their swipe cards. The trusts have also been advised to review their security measures, and many report an increase in CCTV surveillance.