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Staff call for stronger security measures at Portiuncula hospital car park

By Catherine Reilly - 17th May 2023

focus on retention

Healthcare professionals have called for “stronger security” measures in the car park of Portiuncula University Hospital (PUH) in Ballinasloe after two recent vehicle thefts and at least one attempted break-in.

The cars of a doctor and a nurse were stolen from their workplace on Friday 5 May.

Ms Honey Stephen, a staff nurse in the maternity service, whose car was stolen, told the Medical Independent (MI) it was a date she would not forget as it was international midwives’ day. Ms Stephen said she finished her shift at approximately 8.20pm and discovered her car was missing from the car park. Gardai located the stolen vehicle in Dublin later that night and the insurance company advised it was beyond repair. Ms Stephen said she was grateful to her Director of Nursing for organising taxis between the hospital and her home, about 30 minutes’ drive away, in the interim.  

However, Ms Stephen urged the hospital to improve security in the car park. “We are staff taking care of the patients, so we can’t come and check the car in between, we need a strong security system for staff,” she said.

Dr Ali Raza, a paediatric doctor at PUH and Vice-President of Train Us for Ireland, told MI that surgical registrar Dr Muhammed Raheel was the other member of healthcare staff whose car was stolen on 5 May. Last month Dr Raheel was also the victim of an alleged incident at his home, which was publicised in the national media and is being investigated by gardai. Dr Raza said it was a shocking and upsetting sequence of events for Dr Raheel. His car was later located by gardai in Co Westmeath.

On Saturday 22 April a doctor working in the emergency department at PUH finished her shift to find the windows of her car had been smashed and damage indicating an attempted theft, added Dr Raza.

Separately, an emergency medicine registrar at PUH, who was celebrating Eid at home in Ballinasloe with family and friends on Friday 21 April, encountered an intruder who was allegedly attempting to steal items from the house. An individual was later apprehended by gardai.

Dr Raza said all of these incidents had caused unease and panic among medical and healthcare staff working in the community. However, he praised people in Ireland for their support after a number of these incidents were highlighted on social media.

In regard to the hospital car park, Dr Raza said “we are trying our best to ask them to increase the security”.

Speaking to MI last week, Dr Raza said he had not encountered security personnel assigned to the car park at PUH.  He said staff were concerned about the security of their cars while on duty and were checking that their cars were still there.

“They are looking after the critical patients and their minds should be at peace, their minds shouldn’t be thinking about their cars…[management] should provide a safe environment.”

In an email to staff last week, PUH General Manager Mr James Keane said the hospital was “working on the provision of additional security for the site and will have increased number of security personnel on site over the coming weeks”.

Mr Keane said a Garda liaison had identified Toyota Aqua cars as being vulnerable to break-ins and “where possible” owners of these vehicles should park in a “prominent” area of the hospital.

MI asked Saolta University Health Care Group about the extent of security in the hospital car park and what measures it was taking to mitigate the break-ins and provide support to staff.

A Saolta spokesperson said: “Ensuring the safety of employees and service users is a priority concern for the HSE. The HSE is committed to creating a safe environment within which to work or to be treated.

“Hospital Watch operates as a partnership between An Garda Síochána Ballinasloe, the Health Service Executive, Saolta University Health Care Group, Portiuncula University Hospital staff, patients and visitors with the aim of preventing crime within the hospital setting.  Hospital Watch embodies the principles of partnership, problem solving, engagement and crime prevention.”

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