Next-level security for maternity wards
In a world where technology is developing at a rapid pace, one wonders why technology is not being used to improve security at hospitals, especially in maternity wards.

Often when we visit retail stores, most items are tagged with a security device. If an item is removed from the store without the necessary authorisation, which would be purchasing it, it would trigger an alarm to alert security.

After writing about hospital security, a thought entered my mind – why are we not implementing this security strategy in maternity wards?

Newborn babies going missing from a maternity ward is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, we have just seen the massive court case of Zephany Nurse come to a conclusion.

Surely more could be done to improve safety measures. Why aren't maternity wards kitted out with checkpoints at exits and why aren't babies wearing an anklet which would set of an alarm?

The security measures most maternity wards use is that of the plastic wristband for mom and ankle-band for baby with identical numbers, but this method hasn't always been fool-proof. Babies have been mixed up and they've gone missing, regardless of them wearing an ankle-band.

After digging around a bit, I discovered that one company has in fact looked into the problem and have found a solution.

An accurate, digital solution?

Thembekile Asset Management Systems are using the Sanitag hardware and software systems to improve security within health facilities. The devices used are known as Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS), which is a similar concept to that of Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

The tags work with readers located at various points in the ward, depending on the layout of the facility, and it triangulates to give a result on the location of infants wearing the tags.

The more readers installed in the facility, the more one would be able to hone into the exact, pin-pointed location of the tag you’re searching. The device itself is small and light, not too cumbersome on an infant’s ankle. It’s hypoallergenic, tamper-proof, has a long battery life, and has a motion sensor.

The mother tag and infant tag communicate with each other and form a pairing. Therefore, these tags are synchronised. Mismatching of moms and babies are no more. Moms not knowing where their babies are when they are taken away for tests, no more.

Infants are trackable within the hospital and if mom has a digital device, or a screen has been mounted in the hospital room, mom will be able to track her baby.

Devices are fitted to patients - mommy and baby - with a wristband. The only way for the wristband to be removed is by cutting it. No tearing or pulling would be able to remove the band from the patient. Should the strap be cut without authorisation, an alarm will sound because of a special strip embedded in the wristband.

The device is smart: it allows for real-time location of patients within the confines of the readers. Tags also have sensors which could report if a patient has been inactive or motionless for too long.

The device issues a specific code to the patients and if the hospital information system is digital, the safety tag system can be integrated into it. 

Thembekile AMS representative Dean Parkhouse says: “The device is not meant to replace hospital information, it’s meant to complement it and improve on it.

“It’s a really smart device. Many women are concerned with their babies’ safety. When pairing devices you will also be able to determine if the baby brought to you in the middle of the night for feeding is in fact your baby, because when pressing a button on both devices, a light will confirm if the two devices - mom and baby - are the two which were initially paired.”

Too fancy for state hospitals? 

The Western Cape Department of Health, which oversees government hospitals in the province, considers patients safety and security of great importance. It still uses ID bands which are checked each time mom and baby leave the ward and again upon leaving the facility.

But spokesperson to Minister Nomafrench Mbombo, Luyanda Mfeka, told Parent24: "The department is currently piloting a new electronic baby tagging system at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital in Cape Town. The state-of-the-art system is designed to prevent the unauthorised removal of an infant from the facility, providing 24/7 security.

"Mothers and infants receive electronic security bracelets which is electronically matched and loaded on to specialised system which tracks the movement of infant in the facility." 

What about South Africa's private hospitals?

One of the top private hospital groups in South Africa, Mediclinic, is at the investigation stage of a project to address baby safety.

After asking nursing executive Dr Estelle Coustas what she thought of the electronic tagging idea, she told Parent24: "The product is in the line of what's been described, but I'm unfortunately unable to provide decisions or timelines, as we are in the very early stages of the project.

"In the interim we have locked units with controlled access. We also make use of additional security staff during visiting hours in the hospitals where that is required." 

It seems electronic tagging for mom and baby (and by extension, other healthcare patients) may become a reality in South Africa in the not-too-distant future.

Do you think technology of this nature brings more reassurance? Would you have more faith and trust in a hospital with these electronic security measures in place? Would you be willing to pay more for such a hospital? Share your thoughts by emailing

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