NHS Lothian left with £24k bill after callous thieves swipe hospital items

A SECURITY camera, a fridge, a £9500 eye machine and computers potentially containing patients’ personal records are among thousands of pounds worth of health service equipment stolen in the Lothians.

Information released under Freedom of Information legislation shows that the series of thefts since 2007 has left NHS Lothian with a bill of at least £24,500, although the true figure is likely to be far higher as the health board did not give a value for many of the items that were taken.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said that spending cash replacing stolen items was the “last thing” that under-pressure health boards needed.

He said: “Any form of theft is unacceptable, but from a hospital it reaches a new depth of disgraceful behaviour.”

The items already stolen this year include a PC from Astley Ainslie Hospital worth £500, a fan from the Royal Infirmary and a laptop valued at £800 from Marchhall House, which provides specialist units for adults with learning disabilities.

Last year, four wooden patio chairs worth £300 were taken from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, a wooden park bench was stolen from St John’s Hospital, a £500 camera which included a picture of a patient was pocketed and one brazen thief took a security camera at the Western General Hospital.

Since 2007, ten desktop PCs and 14 laptops were stolen from the health board, while 29 memory sticks were lost.

Some of the items may have contained confidential patient details but NHS Lothian said all electrical equipment, including memory sticks, was encrypted so that records were not accessible if it fell into the wrong hands.

Margaret Watt, chairperson of the Scotland Patients Association, described people who stole from hospitals as the “lowest of the low” and called for new security measures to be introduced.

She said: “These are thefts from the sick, vulnerable and the dying. I hope some day when these guys take sick they will need these things and they are not there.

“Computers should have alarms on them. You see alarms on bottles of whisky in the supermarket. What’s more important, our computers in hospitals or bottles of whisky?”

At the Sick Kids’ hospital in recent years, a large flat-screen TV and a PlayStation console and games, used to entertain poorly children, have been taken. Two years ago at St Michael’s Hospital in Linlithgow, £275 in cash which had been donated by relatives of patients was swiped.

Thieves also targeted lower valued items, with a nail file and a £2 bottle of alcoholic hand gel taken from the Ladywell Medical Centre and the Western General Hospital respectively, while some bread was reported stolen at St John’s Hospital in 2010.

Earlier that year, a thief managed get away with a fridge at the Western and another took a microwave worth £58 belonging to the health board.

The items listed were owned by the health service and did not include those stolen from individual patients.

George Curley, director of operations in facilities at NHS Lothian, said the health board was “concerned and disappointed” when items were stolen.

He added: “We have a robust range of precautions in place to guard against theft and we regularly work with police to safeguard our resources.

“We also remind staff to be vigilant and patients and visitors to be careful with their possessions and to report incidents.”