HEARTLESS thieves are posing as relatives and friends to gain access to Hunter hospitals to rob patients when they are at their most vulnerable.
Easy access and limited security make hospitals a prime target with thieves fleecing patients, visitors and staff of valuables including mobile phones, laptops, jewellery, cash, medication and dentures.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research there were 567 cases of theft at health facilities in the Hunter in the past five years.
This included 76 incidents of thieves breaking into cars and stealing goods.
Hunter New England Health confirmed there were 37 reports of goods stolen from hospital patients last year, 32 in 2010 and 16 in 2009.
There were a further 13 thefts of Hunter New England Health property from staff, with several vehicles broken into away from hospitals.
A thief recently stole a large sum of cash that staff at the Mater Hospital had collected to buy a gift for a colleague.
A Mayfield woman told the Newcastle Herald her father’s wallet was stolen while he was waiting to be admitted to hospital.
‘‘It’s a very low act when you have to steal from someone who is on their death bed,’’ she said. ‘‘I really can’t think of a lower act and I pity the person who did it.’’
Senior Constable Tony Tamplin said thieves targeted the vulnerable, which made hospitals a prime target.
He said the problem was compounded by large amounts of people ‘‘coming and going without being questioned’’ and the fact that many patients and visitors saw hospitals as a place of ‘‘trust’’ and were not on alert.
‘‘Hospitals can’t spend large amounts of their budgets on security, this is a community issue and people need to be aware of it and take precautions,’’ Senior Constable Tamplin said.
‘‘The community needs to think more about its own security and where possible not take valuables with them.’’
Hunter New England Health acute networks operations director Todd McEwan said every effort was made to minimise the risk of theft within hospitals and all matters were reported to police.
‘‘Our staff will often arrange to safeguard valuable items with them or to send them home with relatives,’’ Mr McEwan said.
‘‘It is important to note that these reports include instances where items were later found by hospital staff or police after being misplaced.’’
Mr McEwan said there were a range of security measures in place at hospitals including security guards and closed circuit TV cameras.
‘‘Security measures in place at each facility are determined based on the needs of individual facilities,’’ he said.