The great hospital robbery: Defibrillators, baby heart monitors, even beds – thieves are walking out of NHS wards with vital equipment
And NHS bosses couldn’t give a continental. It’s only taxpayers’s money that’s impacted
You may think that even the lowest, most callous criminal would draw the line at stealing life-saving medical equipment such as baby heart monitors and emergency resuscitation systems from NHS hospitals. But across the country, millions of pounds worth of such vital essential kit is being stolen every year.
Often it’s high-value specialist technology that’s disappearing, apparently stolen to order by organised gangs. Experts suggest they are spiriting it abroad, to Eastern Europe or even as far afield as Iraq and Afghanistan.
And, shockingly, NHS staff are sometimes involved, acting as an ‘inside man’.
But if such thefts are not scandalous enough in themselves, NHS chiefs appear to be so blasé about the losses they don’t even have a national picture of how much equipment is being stolen, let alone a comprehensive anti-theft strategy. Instead, local hospital trust managers have been allowed to bury the losses in financial reports or behind barriers of bureaucratic secrecy.
Often, the true scale of health service security lapses can be glimpsed only through subjecting individual hospitals to Freedom of Information Act requests.
For example, it took detailed analysis of a list of NHS trusts’ annual accounts for 2010-2011 to uncover the fact the North-West London Hospitals NHS Trust had written off more than £220,000 in stolen medical equipment in a year.
And it took an official request last year under the Freedom of Information Act before hospital trust chiefs revealed that last year thieves had removed an astonishing haul of equipment from Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, including CT scanner equipment and ventilator, as well as thermometers and pregnancy testing kits.
A hospital security officer, Robert Palfreyman, told reporters he believed the items were sold to private companies — in many cases abroad.
And much of the theft was achieved using a trick called ‘tailgating’, to get past security barriers. ‘They turn up in a suit wearing a fake NHS security badge and tailgate people through doors,’ he said.
In June last year, following another Freedom of Information Act request, East Kent Hospitals Trust revealed a specialist autopsy examination table, among other items, had been stolen.
Meanwhile, in East Sussex, thieves stole £6,000 worth of patient-monitoring equipment, including a foetal aid monitor and swine flu respirators. And at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, eight hospital beds were taken.
To make matters worse, NHS trusts can’t claim for the stolen property, says Sarah Bailey of the Association of British Insurers. ‘The NHS does not tend to take out commercial insurance policies. Instead, it “self-insures”, which means it absorbs the cost of its losses, rather than taking out policies that could be expensive.’ As she points out: ‘Ultimately, it could be the taxpayer who funds those losses.’
Such crimes can disrupt life-saving surgery. Last year, at least one operation had to be postponed at the Central Middlesex Hospital after vital surgical sterilising equipment, worth more than £250,000, was stolen in a series of thefts over several months.
A spokeswoman for the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust the trust had to borrow equipment in order to keep performing vital ops.
The impact on care should make crime prevention a top priority for NHS bosses, says Katherine Murphy of The Patients Association. ‘This not only is a risk to patients who depend on high quality medical equipment, but is also costing the NHS a huge amount of money. At a time when the Government is making £20 billion of NHS savings, not a penny should be wasted unnecessarily.’
While we don’t have a clear picture of how much equipment is lost every year, an important clue comes from official figures obtained by the Scottish Labour Party, which show that across Scotland in 2010, £1.13 million worth of NHS hospital equipment went missing — including a £60,000 medical scanner. If the same rate of theft is happening across the rest of Britain, we may be losing around £13 million worth of equipment every year.
Laptops used by hospital staff are the most frequent target of hospital thieves, which could mean millions of people’s personal details and medical records have fallen into the hands of criminals.
In June last year, for example, NHS North Central London admitted that an apparently unencrypted laptop, containing details of more than eight million patients, was one of 20 machines reported stolen from a storeroom.
When computer thefts result in the loss of sensitive information on patients, this has to be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the independent public authority set up to uphold information rights.
Figures from the ICO show that the NHS is the top sector for such losses, with significantly more incidents than the whole of the private sector put together.
Such is the ICO’s frustration at NHS theft that earlier this year it slapped an unprecedentedly large fine of £375,000 on Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust after 232 computer hard-drives, containing sensitive financial and medical information, were stolen from Brighton General Hospital in September 2010.
Police were alerted when the drives turned up on eBay. A man was arrested on suspicion of theft and bailed before police decided no action should be taken.
Shockingly, the health service apparently has a lax attitude towards thefts. Responsibility for this area comes under the NHS Security Management Service. The problem is that this body doesn’t have direct authority over local hospital trusts. It has to ask them to submit information on thefts voluntarily, and that has failed to happen sufficiently.
‘The information system does not have adequate information to give out a global figure for all the thefts across the NHS,’ says a source within the service, who asked to remain anonymous.
The problem is compounded, the source says, by the fact that hospital trusts often simply don’t know when expensive equipment has been stolen, thanks to weaknesses in the systems they use to track their property.
‘I’m sure scanners and medical equipment are turning up in Africa and Europe,’ said the source. This is probably true, says Gareth Barkwill, who runs The National Plant and Equipment Register, a specialist detective organisation that traces high-cost machinery — usually industrial and agricultural — that’s been spirited out of the country.
At the heart of such sophisticated thefts lie organised international criminal gangs, which often have links with terrorism.
In the Nineties, Mr Barkwill’s firm was locating stolen tractors and harvesters in Ireland and the Gaza Strip. Such machines can cost in excess of £100,000. Now the stolen equipment is turning up in Afghanistan and Iraq, he says — places where there is a lot of development.
Mr Barkwill believes high-value NHS thefts may be helped by people working within the service. ‘You need specialist knowledge to identify, steal, transport and sell such sophisticated items. Often you can catch the little guys who steal stuff because they do something stupid such as putting them for sale on eBay. The organised guys are harder to catch.’
One of the small fry was Douglas Stevenson, 31, an anaesthetic assistant, who was jailed in April last year for stealing more than £23,000 worth of medical supplies. The Glaswegian was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment after equipment manufacturers spotted their products on eBay and reported their suspicions to the NHS Counter Fraud Service.
He stole supplies and equipment, including surgical implants and specialist drill bits for brain operations, from a number of hospitals, including Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
Earlier this year, nurse Priscilla Hlatshwayo, 38, was convicted of handling stolen goods after police found a cardiac arrest defibrillator, oxygen monitor and other medical machines worth £3,600 in her home. They’d been stolen from NHS hospitals in Greater Manchester and Cheshire.
No one seems to be taking the threat seriously, though. The Metropolitan Police, which has a national unit dedicated to tracing stolen equipment such as tractors, says it does not have any staff dedicated to tracking medical equipment thefts.
The NHS Confederation, which represents Britain’s hospital chiefs, says it is ‘not something that it is focused on’. It referred the Mail to The Health Estates Facilities Management Association, which has not responded to our inquiries.
The Department of Health maintains that enough is being done to tackle the problem. A spokeswoman says: ‘Any theft of NHS property is taken extremely seriously and all NHS bodies must have proper plans in place to prevent and report theft.’
But without a serious, systematic investigation of high-value equipment theft, we will never discover who the culprits are or how much is being stolen.
Instead, the health service will continue to bleed vital equipment — equipment we have all worked hard to fund.
The sex offender doctors allowed to keep working: Dozens can’t be banned in case it breaches their human rights
Dozens of doctors have kept their jobs despite being convicted of serious sex offences. Medical chiefs claim they cannot ban all sex offenders from working because it might breach their human rights.
At least 31 male GPs, consultants and surgeons are practising even after having assaulted women, been in possession of child pornography or solicited prostitutes. None of their patients have been informed.
Some of those with child pornography offences are even believed to be free to treat children.
Patients’ groups and MPs say people would be horrified to learn a sex offending doctor had examined them.
Among the 31 is Benjamin Obukofe [above], who was found guilty by a court last year of sexually assaulting two colleagues at Spire Hospital in Leicestershire, including a girl of 17.
Although the married father was given a suspended prison sentence and put on the sex offenders register for seven years, he has not been struck off and will be free to work within a year.
Nicholas Spicer escaped being struck off in 2010 even though he was described by the General Medical Council as a ‘deviant’ for downloading child-sex stories.
He read the paedophile fantasies on his home computer between 2003 and 2007 while working with children as a GP but was cleared of misconduct and allowed to go back to work in another part of the country following a six-month ban.
A gynaecologist in the Wirral kept his licence after being cautioned for soliciting a prostitute.
An investigation by the Daily Mail found that of 31 licensed doctors with convictions for sex offences, four have records of sexual assaults, four have been convicted of child pornography offences, two committed voyeurism or exposure offences and 21 solicited prostitutes or were caught kerb-crawling.
While many are free to practise only under warning and are subject to monitoring, ten are licensed to treat patients, including children, without any sanctions at all.
Three of the doctors with child pornography convictions are allowed to practise without any conditions, the GMC admitted after a freedom of information request. Individual hospitals are free, however, to impose their own sanctions on the doctors.
At least 23 of them are employed at NHS hospitals and GP surgeries across Britain.
One anaesthetist was allowed to carry on working after a three-month suspension for squeezing the breast of a junior member of staff. Father-of-two Sudhakar Srirama, who practised at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham, near Hull, said the incident was a ‘one-off’.
The number of doctors licensed despite convictions or cautions for sex and child pornography offences has almost trebled since 2007.
The GMC insists it inquired about an automatic ban on doctors who are on the sex offenders register but ‘advice was obtained from a leading QC who concluded that an automatic bar, without exceptions, would not be compatible with human rights legislation’.
Niall Dickson, the council’s chief executive, said: ‘Cases of doctors convicted of sexual assault or child pornography offences are very rare and in the vast majority of these cases these doctors are struck off the medical register so they cannot practise medicine in the UK.’
A spokesman added that the decision on whether to strike off a doctor was taken by an independent panel of experts and could not be appealed against by the GMC.
‘The GMC is also looking to automatically strike off doctors who have been convicted of sexual offences. It doesn’t have that power at the moment,’ he added.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who sits on the health select committee, said: ‘It is the rights of the patients we should be more concerned with. I will be writing to the health minister to express my concern.’
Tory MP Stephen Dorrell, who chairs the committee, said patients ‘have a right to know’ if they are being treated by doctors with convictions for sex offences.
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: ‘The GMC has a duty of care to protect the public. It must take all adequate measures to ensure patient safety always comes first.’
Critics of the system want permanent bans on convicted doctors and are concerned that the GMC, which regulates the medics, has no access to the sex offenders register and relies on the police to inform its officials of court sentences.
US universities ‘seeking to recruit more British students’
Rising numbers of institutions – including many belonging to the elite Ivy League – are marketing themselves to bright school-leavers on the back of a near tripling of the cost of a degree in Britain.
Around 9,000 British undergraduates and postgraduates studied in the US last year and experts predict that the number will soar further this autumn and again in 2013.
The number of students taking the main US higher education entrance exam in this country has already increased by a third in recent years and test centres are expanding to meet record demand.
It comes as British universities prepare to charge up to £9,000 in annual tuition fees for the first time this term.
Figures published earlier this month showed that it has had a serious impact on recruitment rates, with the number of students accepting places onto British universities plummeting by almost 57,000 – 12 per cent – so far this year.
J Robert Spatig, assistant vice-president for admissions at South Florida University in Tampa, said this was a “carpe diem moment for recruitment of UK students”.
“We believe that the floodgates are going to open once British students learn that tuition at many top research universities in the US may now be less than at a comparable Russell Group university in the UK,” he said. “This is a once in a generation opportunity to attract prospective British applicants across the Atlantic.”
US universities traditionally charge between £9,800 and £19,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, although some institutions provide more generous scholarships and grants than those available in Britain.
Janette Wallis, a senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, told how some bright students had been tempted to New York University’s international campus in Abu Dhabi with free tuition, £2,000 living expenses and flights to and from the Middle East.
Rising numbers of parents are now seeking out the guide’s reviews of American universities with a view to sending their children on similar courses, she said. “They might have been interested before, but that £9,000 fee has tipped their interest into action,” she said.
The comments came ahead of a major US college recruitment fair in London later this week. A record 165 institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University, will exhibit at the USA College Day fair on Friday and Saturday.
The US-UK Fulbright Commission, which stages the event at Kensington Town Hall, said exhibitors had soared by 80 per cent in the last three years, with 3,500 students registering to attend the 2012 event so far.
Lauren Welch, director of marketing at the Fulbright Commission, said: “American universities are chomping at the bit to reach British students. We are seeing universities of all shapes and sizes come over the pond this autumn, including many newcomers.
“Universities are also staying longer, planning longer recruitment trips, tacking on school visits around the country.”
A separate event, The Student World Fair, featuring institutions from the US, Europe and Asia, will be staged in Manchester on Saturday before embarking on a roadshow taking in Leicester, Solihull, Bristol and London. It has reported a 25 per increase in exhibitors, with up to 30 institutions being represented.
Germany’s wind power chaos should be a warning to the UK
Germany has gone further down the ‘renewables’ path than any country in the world, and now it’s paying the price
On Friday, September 14, just before 10am, Britain’s 3,500 wind turbines broke all records by briefly supplying just over four gigawatts (GW) of electricity to the national grid. Three hours later, in Germany, that country’s 23,000 wind turbines and millions of solar panels similarly achieved an unprecedented output of 31GW. But the responses to these events in the two countries could not have been in starker contrast.
In Britain, the wind industry proclaimed a triumph. Maria McCaffery, the CEO of RenewableUK, crowed that “this record high shows that wind energy is providing a reliable, secure supply of electricity to an ever-growing number of British homes and businesses” and that “this bountiful free resource will help drive down energy bills”. But in Germany, the news was greeted with dismay, for reasons which merit serious attention here in Britain.
Germany is way ahead of us on the very path our politicians want us to follow – and the problems it has encountered as a result are big news there. In fact, Germany is being horribly caught out by precisely the same delusion about renewable energy that our own politicians have fallen for. Like all enthusiasts for “free, clean, renewable electricity”, they overlook the fatal implications of the fact that wind speeds and sunlight constantly vary. They are taken in by the wind industry’s trick of vastly exaggerating the usefulness of wind farms by talking in terms of their “capacity”, hiding the fact that their actual output will waver between 100 per cent of capacity and zero. In Britain it averages around 25 per cent; in Germany it is lower, just 17 per cent.
The more a country depends on such sources of energy, the more there will arise – as Germany is discovering – two massive technical problems. One is that it becomes incredibly difficult to maintain a consistent supply of power to the grid, when that wildly fluctuating renewable output has to be balanced by input from conventional power stations. The other is that, to keep that back-up constantly available can require fossil-fuel power plants to run much of the time very inefficiently and expensively (incidentally chucking out so much more “carbon” than normal that it negates any supposed CO2 savings from the wind).
Both these problems have come home to roost in Germany in a big way, because it has gone more aggressively down the renewables route than any other country in the world. Having poured hundreds of billions of euros in subsidies into wind and solar power, making its electricity bills almost the highest in Europe, the picture that Germany presents is, on paper, almost everything the most rabid greenie could want. Last year, its wind turbines already had 29GW of capacity, equivalent to a quarter of Germany’s average electricity demand. But because these turbines are even less efficient than our own, their actual output averaged only 5GW, and most of the rest had to come from grown-up power stations, ready to supply up to 29GW at any time and then switch off as the wind picked up again.
Now the problem for the German grid has become even worse. Thanks to a flood of subsidies unleashed by Angela Merkel’s government, renewable capacity has risen still further (solar, for instance, by 43 per cent). This makes it so difficult to keep the grid balanced that it is permanently at risk of power failures. (When the power to one Hamburg aluminium factory failed recently, for only a fraction of a second, it shut down the plant, causing serious damage.) Energy-intensive industries are having to install their own generators, or are looking to leave Germany altogether.
In fact, a mighty battle is now developing in Germany between green fantasists and practical realists. Because renewable energy must by law have priority in supplying the grid, the owners of conventional power stations, finding they have to run plants unprofitably, are so angry that they are threatening to close many of them down. The government response, astonishingly, has been to propose a new law forcing them to continue running their plants at a loss.
Meanwhile, firms such as RWE and E.on are going flat out to build 16 new coal-fired and 15 new gas-fired power stations by 2020, with a combined output equivalent to some 38 per cent of Germany’s electricity needs. None of these will be required to have “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), which is just an empty pipedream. This makes nonsense of any pretence that Germany will meet its EU target for reducing CO2 emissions (and Mrs Merkel’s equally fanciful goal of producing 35 per cent of electricity from renewables).
In brief, Germany’s renewables drive is turning out to be a disaster. This should particularly concern us because our Government, with its plan to build 30,000 turbines, to meet our EU target of sourcing 32 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2020, is hell-bent on the same path. But our own “big six” electricity companies, including RWE and E.on, are told that they cannot build any replacements for our coal-fired stations (many soon to be closed under EU rules) which last week were supplying more than 40 per cent of our power – unless they are fitted with that make-believe CCS. A similar threat hangs over plans to build new gas-fired plants of the type that will be essential to provide up to 100 per cent back-up for those useless windmills.
Everything about the battle now raging in Germany applies equally to us here in Britain – except that we have only fantasists such as Ed Davey in charge of our energy policy. Unless the realists stage a counter-coup very fast, we are in deep trouble.
Only Warmists could pass this British High School Exam
While Michael Gove tries valiantly to remedy our dysfunctional exam system he might take a look at some recent papers, such as that set last June for A-level General Studies students by our leading exam body, AQA. Candidates were asked to discuss 11 pages of “source material” on the subject of climate change. Sources ranged from a report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to The Guardian, all shamelessly promoting global warming alarmism. One document from the Met Office solemnly predicted that “even if global temperatures only rise by 2 degrees C, 30-40 per cent of species could face extinction”. A graph from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed temperatures having soared in the past 100 years by 1.4 degrees – exactly twice the generally accepted figure.
The only hint that anyone might question such beliefs was an article by Louise Gray from The Daily Telegraph, which quoted that tireless campaigner for the warmist cause, Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute, dismissing all sceptics as “a remnant group of dinosaurs” who “misunderstood the point of science”.
If it were still a purpose of education to teach people to examine evidence and think rationally, any bright A-level candidate might have had a field day, showing how all this “source material” was no more than vacuous, one-sided propaganda. But today one fears they would have been marked down so severely for not coming up with the desired answers that they would have been among the tiny handful of candidates given an unequivocal “fail”.
British homosexuals ‘seven times more likely to take illegal drugs than general population’
Gay people are seven times more likely to take illegal drugs than the general population, a new study conducted over two years has found. And one in five show signs of dependency on drugs or alcohol.
The report, conducted by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) and the University of Central Lancashire, sampled more than 4,000 people over two years.
More than a third of gay, lesbian and bisexual people took at least one illegal drug in the last month, according to the study – the largest of its kind to date. This compares to 5 per cent of the wider population who admitted using a drug in the last month in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
According to the researchers the most widely used substances among those surveyed were party drugs such as cannabis and ‘poppers’ – a liquid nitrite sold in a small bottle and inhaled. These were followed by powder cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamines.
The study, reported in the Independent on Sunday, found they were 10 times more likely to have used cocaine in the last month than the wider population, and 13 times more likely to have used ketamine.
The use of heroin use was similar among both populations. However crack cocaine use was again higher among the gay community.
David Stuart, education, training and outreach manager at London Friend, the UK’s only targeted LGBT drug and alcohol service, told the paper feelings of “rejection” and “fear” as well as “shame around sex” could contribute to drug use.
Kitty Richardson, 25, who runs the Most Cake, a blog for lesbians in London, said the scene had a lot to answer for. She added: ‘People are very quick to label gay people as troubled, or inherently needing those crutches, but all our methods of socialising revolve around drink or drugs.’ She added that this can lead to dependency.
The research was carried out at Pride events, which celebrate gay, lesbian and bisexual culture, and through online and postal surveys.
The research also found that whereas drug use in the general population declined with age – almost as many lesbian, gay and bisexual 36- to 40-year-olds were taking drugs as their younger counterparts.
Drug counsellor Sarah Graham, from London, told the Independent on Sunday her own experiences of being subjected to homophobic bullying was a factor in her battle with addiction, which at one point saw her spending £600 a week on drugs and alcohol, such as cannabis, speed and acid, and then cocaine
She said: ‘A lesbian, gay or bisexual person presenting in treatment can have specific traumas, in which workers need to be trained.’