Morse Watchmans: A ‘physical security blanket’

April 25, 2024


Morse Watchmans

Key control physical security systems create safer and more secure healthcare facilities, promoting operational efficiencies for ageing infrastructure during staffing shortages, says Morse Watchmans’, Marcey Tweedie.

A priority for the 75-year-old National Health Services (NHS) Trust has always been to provide the best quality healthcare to patients in a safe and secure environment.

Ensuring safety and security in UK hospitals requires security and healthcare administrators to regularly conduct security audits to identify potential security and compliance issues so that people and property are protected from theft, damage, and physical harm.

Safety and security improvements always involve investing time and money into technological upgrades to properly maintain aging facilities and their infrastructure, so they are not neglected beyond reasonable repair. 

While funding through a general tax revenue has mostly worked for the NHS for decades since its inception, the UK’s predominant healthcare system is now fledgling with a one-two punch of underfunding and understaffing.

After the Covid-19 pandemic was officially declared over, cracks in the system emerged when NHS healthcare operations began recovery from the flux of serving Covid and emergency patients only and then trying to adjust to regular operations protocol. 

Years of underinvestment 

On average, the number of beds available per 1,000 patients in the UK is 2.4, according to the British Medical Association (BMA) hospital bed data analysis.

This is compared to Germany’s 7.8 beds, with the average number being 5.1 beds.

The analysis says that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated higher demands for healthcare and a shortage of beds.

Now the NHS is facing challenges recovering, which significantly impacts immediacy of care and the safety of patients. 

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) July 2023 article ‘At Breaking Point or Already Broken?’ by David J. Hunter explains, “The primary contributor is long-term underinvestment in health services.

The UK adhered to health system orthodoxy in reducing expenditures by running a “just-in-time” system with high hospital bed occupancy.

Although the government increased health spending during the pandemic, and again in recent months to reduce waiting lists, we are relearning the lesson that the effects of a decade of underinvestment cannot be rapidly reversed.” 

During Covid, patients postponed their planned healthcare procedures and now the demand is high to schedule surgeries, often months in advance.

That combined with ongoing emergencies and residual Covid-related healthcare needs pushed hospitals to their brink with unusually high patient volume.

This also has a major effect on healthcare workers and nurses who already experienced stressful and mentally challenging long hours attending to Covid patients and the chaotic aftermath of patient overflow. 

Staffing struggles 

With underinvestment in healthcare and infrastructure spending and high patient intake demand, it is understandable to see how healthcare staff are impacted, whom under these conditions need to work longer hours with fewer beds and the excess of patients waiting to be cared for.  

While an overhaul of the NHS is continually being reviewed for appropriate changes to take place, patients still need to be secure and infrastructure still needs protection so the bottom line can still be protected from more financial loss due to security incidents involving theft, data breaches, and violence. 

With staffing shortages, safety and security are more at risk because of longer shifts for healthcare workers.

When workers are stressed and fatigued, morale decreases, and frustration increases, which can often result in unsatisfactory delivery of timely and quality patient care.

Patients awaiting care while in pain or discomfort also vent frustrations at healthcare workers, where the risk of incidents of harassment and violence can increase, adding stressors to healthcare security teams. 

How key control helps with safety and security 

When a healthcare system is experiencing underfunding and understaffing, it is prudent to investigate security procedures and technologies that help to unburden healthcare workers.

This helps to create efficiencies for them during their work shifts.

A layered and integrated security technology approach with regular audits that provides a continuum of security data to security administrators helps with regulatory and compliance issues while easing administrative task burdens on healthcare workers. 

One of those layers of security technology that achieves this is electronic key control, which keeps the hundreds to thousands of physical keys on healthcare facility premises accounted for and tracked in a secure and tamper-proof cabinet.

Besides securing and tracking keys, a key control system provides asset management for valuables such as medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, fleet vehicles, weapons, hand-held radios, personal belongings, computer hardware, data server rooms and more. 

Electronic key control allows administrators to assign keys to specific users and programme them into the system to be released only to authorised users.

Keys are always available during all shifts when authorised users enter their credentials and their keys light up and only these specific keys for specific purposes are released to them.

If a key is scheduled to be returned at a designated time and it is overdue being returned, an alert goes to administrators to follow up by an audit to identify who has not yet returned the key. 

Key control saves time and increases productivity 

Healthcare facilities have a variety of staff members who need keys to carry out their job responsibilities. Some use many keys, such as facilities managers, who also need to dole out keys to contractors working in the building for a designated time.

Others, such as nurses, administrative staff, and aides may need just a few keys for access to medical supplies and equipment. 

Instead of a manual process of locating an individual to obtain a key from a manual sign-out system, a centralised key control system contains and secures all physical keys.

The system provides access control and asset management to all areas of the hospital as well as protection for the keys themselves with an audit trail readily available, so they do not go missing. 

Each employee, authorised contractor, and temporary worker has their own permissions to obtain keys including which keys and what times during the day or night they will be using them, how long they are allowed to keep each key out for use, when and where they must be returned and other criteria.

The system also has a notes feature that can further inform staff members of any additional important information. 

As a result, workflows are more efficient and healthcare staff no longer need to hunt down keys to medical supplies, saving much needed time and frustration.

Audits are also instantly available, which helps hospitals maintain regulatory compliance with important security information the key control system immediately provides.

Key control systems also eliminate the potential for loss or theft of keys and the need for expensive re-keying. 

Keeping better track of keys means keeping better track of people, places, and things on site at healthcare facilities, which enhances safety and security for the long run goal to protect patients while providing the best quality healthcare possible during their hospital experience.

Electronic key control is effective security technology that is economical, providing solid return on investment as a loss prevention tool that protects not just patients, people, equipment, and supplies, but also enhances productivity, time management, and bottom-line profit margins as well. 

This article was originally published in the April Edition of Security Journal United Kingdom. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

Read Next