Hospital security breaches soar

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 27/10/2012
middlemore
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax Media
MIDDLEMORE HOSPITAL: Neha Narayan took a baby from the maternity ward and carried it to the hospital car park.

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An attempted baby snatching from an Auckland maternity ward was just one of thousands of security breaches at the city's hospitals over the past two years.

Violent and threatening behaviour, stalking, unauthorised hospital access, and thefts were listed among the 3000 security call-outs at Auckland hospitals in 2010 and 2011.

The Auckland district health boards have defended their security policies, saying hospitals are not prisons so security measures must be balanced against the freedom of patients and visitors.

But sometimes things go wrong.

In what can only be described as every mother's nightmare, a young woman walked into Middlemore Hospital's maternity wards and snatched a newborn baby on January 4.

Neha Narayan escaped to the hospital car park, but was caught after being spotted by the baby's family and a nurse.

Narayan, 25, pleaded guilty to kidnapping the day-old infant last month and yesterday in the High Court at Auckland was sentenced to 200 hours community work and two years of intensive supervision, which will include a range of psychological and psychiatric treatments.

The alarming incident came a decade on from a spate of attempted baby abductions that prompted hospitals to beef up security. 

Yet 10 years after hospitals came under fire, two women have appeared in court for baby abduction, highlighting cracks in security.

In December 2008, Rachel Marie French pretended to be a trainee midwife and snatched a baby boy from the maternity ward at St George's Hospital in Christchurch.

A nurse spotted French holding the baby while still at the hospital.

French was described as a disturbed young woman who lived in a fantasy world when she was sentenced at Christchurch District Court in May this year.

Narayan was also described as having  ''a lot of issues'' by her former lawyer Heeni Phillips.

Both French and Narayan had suffered miscarriages in the past.

Narayan faked a pregnancy for nine-months and told her husband she was overdue at the time of the attempted baby abduction.  

The incident sparked a review at Middlemore Hospital and tougher security policies.

Counties Manukau DHB spokeswoman Lauren Young said she was confident the new security measures would work.

They included an onus on parents and staff to alert security of  any suspicious behaviour, security cameras on entry and exit points, and the swipe card entry time halving to 15 seconds.Narayan had snuck into the maternity ward by following another visitor through.

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Electronic monitoring devices for newborns were investigated in 1998, but have never been enforced. 

The hospital didn't want to turn into a prison or airport where everyone's credentials were checked, Young said.

''We don't want the maternity ward to feel like a prison. It's a happy place.'' 

After-hour swipe card access, security cameras and guards on-call are among the measures already used by Auckland hospitals.

Auckland District Health Board spokesman Mark Fenwick said staff would lock down wards if there were concerns over unauthorised access, and this occurred every few months.

This could happen if a parent who was banned from seeing their child attempted to visit.

''We must balance that with the need to ensure mothers and newborns can move freely because it's an important bonding time for the family.''

There were 34 reports of unauthorised access at Auckland's hospitals in 2010 and 2011.

Physical assaults, verbal abuse and inappropriate behaviour were the most commonly reported security problem, with more than 1600 incidents recorded over two years.

Theft and vandalism were the next most common incidents.Among the less common but serious incidents were 14 weapons found and four cases of stalking.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions on whether any action had been taken as a result of the Middlemore baby abduction.

Don Mackie, Chief Medical Officer of Health, said hospitals were regularly audited, including their security policy.

BABY ABDUCTIONS

2012: Neha Narayan walked into Middlemore Hospital's maternity wards and snatched a newborn baby on January 4. She escaped to the hospital car park, but was caught after being spotted by the baby's family and a nurse.

2008: Rachel Marie French pretended to be a trainee midwife and snatched a baby boy from the maternity ward at St George's Hospital in Christchurch. She was caught almost immediately when a nurse spotted her carrying the baby.

2000: A mentally disturbed father took his recuperating seven-month-old baby from her Auckland Hospital bed. The girl had been recovering from heart surgery at Greenlane. Police caught up with the man on a bus in Takanini. He was not charged and was admitted to a  psychiatric facility.

1998: A six-day-old baby was snatched from the maternity ward at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital. He was found 30 minutes later 2km from the hospital with a 17-year-old woman. The same year, in Taranaki, a woman threatened several new mothers and midwives, saying she was willing to risk getting caught to get the baby she needed. Taranaki Healthcare tightened security and set up video surveillance following the threats.

1993: A newborn baby boy was taken from National Women's Hospital in Auckland and found 30 hours later.

1992: A six-day-old baby was abducted from Northland Base Hospital. He was returned unharmed a few hours later.

- Auckland Now

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