For this webinar we teamed up with the National Association of Healthcare Security (NAHS) to hold an afternoon session on the future of Healthcare Security.

Panel chair: Martin Gill

Bonnie Michelman CPP CHPA – Executive Director of Police, Security & Outside Services at Massachusetts General Hospital
Barrie Millett – Director of Assurance at Mitie 
Jayne King ASMS, FSyI, PGDip – President of NAHS

Summary and close: Jayne King ASMS, FSyI, PGDip and Roger Ringham, NAHS Chair

Key points

Bonnie Michelman notes that it was difficult to believe how quick and pervasive the virus proved to be, it resulted in a surge of very ill patients into hospitals at short notice. It has lasted a long time and has had many impacts. Security was well prepared for emergencies but not enough for one this long. Example of the problems faced included: people not getting the healthcare they wanted and being frustrated; some staff being traumatised; the need to prevent visitors entering the hospitals; the requitement to set up mobile beds (including some specifically for the homeless); separating out the very ill and infected patients from the rest; managing staff attending work when there was an absence of public transport or a reduction in what was being provided; providing a labour pool to cover different jobs (plumbers were washing dishes); managing supply chain security, for example the supply of blood; managing the safe handling of donations of items such as food, shoes; responding to cyber attacks; responding to fraud (people were distracted), as well as extortion attempts;  and managing Covid fatigue. While initially with less visitors violence went down it has since returned to higher levels.

Bonnie is positive about how security has performed; it has shown agility, flexibility, been resilient and stepped up when that was required. The lessons going forward include: planning for the worst including the longer term; better managing technology changes; understanding better workers’ exhaustion; conducting regular risk assessments to asses changes, and getting the best intelligence to facilitate the most up-to-date response; maintaining partnerships including collaborations with nurses for example which have been a real positive. Bonnie’s fear is that security will compromise what has been achieved by being distracted. She calls on colleagues to collate data to tell stories of security access. Security leaders need to lead.

Barrie Millett highlights the ley role security has played in the crisis, both generally and specifically to the setting up of Covid testing centres which were introduced as new ventures in diverse locales. A principal problem has been dealing with ffrustrations on the frontline where frontline security staff are having to manage nervous people and allay their fears. A different issue has been responding to subversive activity with offenders posing as legitimate couriers to intercept supplies, and there have also been brute force attacks on storage places. One threat has been from Covid deniers who have protested in different ways. Overall though security has performed well, and he highlights partnerships as they key route to ensuring improvements that have been made are maintained. Yet he warns of the need not to lose sight of other threats, such as that of terrorism which has increased at this time. Training is also key; much of the emphasis here is about adopting what is already known to new settings. The speed of change though has required careful addressing of the requirements. Barrie too calls for the security sector to shout about its successes, all too often it has been weak at this.

Jayne King notes that the challenges Bonnie has faced in the US are largely mirrored here. Her general point is that security has been shown to be an intricate part of the fabric of the health service and has come to the font in the crisis in enabling healthcare to achieve its primary function. To be clear, no one was prepared for this pandemic and the response is still evolving. The senior team committed to working 7 days per week supporting staff on the frontline underlining the importance of leadership. In addition to developments already mentioned, Jayne discusses the need to have changed the definition of critical asset; protecting PPE and hand sanitisers (which were being stolen from around hospitals); and protecting staff who were being mugged for their work ID cards so they could get priority service in some shops and even take account of discounts; managing vast new hospitals that were built in days; and obtaining more security staff including from the hotel sector where security was largely redundant. Jayne placed a high emphasis on the positive recognition of security staff as key workers and called on colleagues to seize the moment. She stressed the value of risk assessments, and you will hear her discussing the influence of no smoking policy and how to manage irritated smokers; and the approach to protecting babies, always a sensitive issue.

This engaging webinar has highlighted the challenges of security in a specific area of work, one at the forefront of public attention, healthcare. The panellists all outlined changes that have had to make, sometimes on the hoof, and all sent out a call to ensure that the progress made during the time of crisis is maintained. Doing this well will involve highlighting, loudly, the successes to different audiences. Nothing wrong with that of course but there is no overwhelming evidence the sector is currently doing that effectively enough, at best there are pockets of very good activity. Perhaps of all the advice proffered in this webinar that is the bit the security sector needs to heed the most; start shouting about the successes.

Martin Gill
12th November 2020

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