Healthcare facilities are meant to be places of reassurance and restful environments in which patients feel safe and secure. Although hospitals and other medical organisations are working around the clock to negate the ongoing impact of COVID-19, they are still targets for criminals. Unfortunately, even during the peak of the pandemic, there were reports of opportunistic thieves who ransacked NHS staff lockers, stole staff bicycles, and slashed ambulance tyres. These incidents highlight the need for reliable security measures to safeguard people and property, writes Peter Jackson, MD at Jacksons Fencing.
From hospitals to care homes, dental surgeries to local GP practices, all of these places carry out constant, essential work and require a full range of specialist security features to help protect them. As they are porous environments with large numbers of people visiting daily, these facilities become easy targets. They are attractive to criminals as they are considered ‘soft targets’, filled with opportunities to reap expensive and highly desirable goods. From prescription drugs to costly equipment, and in more recent times, cyber-attacks on data, almost everything can be sold on the black market.
Despite these concerns, healthcare facilities have to be welcoming to their patients, staff and visitors. Security is most effective when the design of the space is taken into consideration. External physical security is as important as interior and digital approaches, which means fencing, storage enclosures, and access control such as gates are key in allowing effective 365-days-a-year operation.
Access control and parking
Hospitals; in particular, are fast-paced environments; efficient, seamless access is crucial so that ambulances can bring patients inside quickly. Beyond this, wheelchair access, and access for those with restricted mobility also need to be considered, as disabled, elderly or very sick patients are likely to be frequent visitors. Thus, all gates and access points must be assessed, and access points must be able to be controlled centrally, or regularly monitored.
Healthcare facilities often have a diverse range of vehicles requiring access, including ambulances, delivery lorries and staff, visitor and patient cars. While patients, visitors and staff need secure parking, emergency vehicles must be able to enter and exit the site at speed, without putting pedestrians at risk.
The building of entrances and car parks needs careful thought, with fencing, pedestrian walkways, and bollards put in place to keep people separate from vehicular traffic.
Installing rising arm barriers or bollards in the car parks will help to control access. These solutions will also protect critical entrances, including specialist units and emergency wards.
Automated gates can also offer an additional level of security and can be a useful tool to enable facilities to monitor and keep a record of vehicles. When designing pedestrian and vehicular access, gates should be DDA (Disability Discrimination Act)-compliant. Crucially, the design of fencing and gates must accommodate rapid evacuation.
A step beyond
Multi-storey car parks provide a highly efficient way of parking cars, as they require less ground area than conventional parking solutions. Commonly used alongside healthcare facilities, they provide low building costs per parking space and a greater level of flexibility, which ensures faster parking and retrieval times.
These structures require specialist fencing to secure them effectively. Lister Hospital, Hertfordshire, is one of the projects we have worked on to secure the multi-storey car park site. Here, over 1000m of steel welded mesh panels were specified to create an ultra-secure barrier to stop members of the public from falling through open gaps in the car park’s steel structural framework.
Promoting wellness through aesthetics
Creating a welcoming environment is important when specifying security options for hospitals. While razor and barbed wire are effective deterrents to potential trespassers, their aesthetic is harsh and intimidating and should be used sparingly.
Solutions that offer both visual appeal and high levels of security are vertical bar railings or welded mesh panels. Both create a secure boundary, and provide excellent visibility for surveillance while offering greater protection than other alternatives.
For areas requiring a ‘softer’ appearance, such as gardens and outdoor recreational areas, timber fencing is well suited. Timber has a natural, welcoming appearance and promotes a sense of wellbeing and privacy. As well as offering a pleasing aesthetic, it also provides a high level of noise protection. Timber acoustic fencing further reduces the effects of noise pollution, transforming these areas into oases of calm, ideal for recuperation and respite for patients and staff.
These gardens play an important part in healthcare settings. They provide quiet areas away from the bustling hospital to help patients’ recovery process. We recently worked on a spinal unit in Stoke Mandeville, where we installed fencing in the garden to create a safe boundary and offer patients and staff a peaceful environment. The design team chose timber panels for the green space, offering an ideal balance of aesthetics and privacy. The elegant design helps to create a tranquil atmosphere, while the alternating fence pales also help to protect the privacy of the patients while outdoors.
Outdoor storage areas
Healthcare facilities produce medical waste, of which a large proportion is hazardous. This is held on site in outdoor bin stores while awaiting collection. Hospitals have a responsibility to ensure these areas are secured using risk-appropriate fencing to avoid potentially dangerous materials getting into the wrong hands.
Risk assessments are key to ensuring appropriate solutions are installed. For facilities exposed to nefarious activity, products accredited by standards including Secured by Design or the Loss Prevention Certification Board’s LPS 1175 are proven to reduce the likelihood of crime. It’s also best practice to locate storage areas in locations away from climbing aids such as lamp posts or trees. The fence should also be high enough to deter people from climbing these structures and a timber/steel combination fence
providing security, but also hiding the waste inside is a favoured aesthetic solution.
Healthcare facilities across the UK are vital infrastructures dedicated to promoting and maintaining health. This year, we have witnessed first hand the unbelievable, selfless work those in the NHS carry out on a daily basis to preserve life. This highlights exactly why time and money need to be invested on each site to ensure it is safe and secure for all.
There are countless options to choose from when it comes to specifying security for healthcare environments. Each site will be unique and; therefore, specifiers and facilities managers must partake in thorough assessments to confirm they’re selecting the most appropriate security structures to ensure sites are safeguarded effectively.