Security guards and checks on foreign patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King’s Lynn

A Norfolk hospital is to employ security guards for the first time after a catalogue of serious incidents. Foreign patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, will also be vetted by a new 'overseas visitor team', to check they qualify for free NHS treatment.

Incidents at the QEH over the last year include the death of a patient who absconded from A&E and was involved in a road accident, a patient trying to hang themselves in a toilet and the theft of laptops and dictaphones.

A report to staff says: 'Talks have been held with a number of firms who have been invited to tender for the security contract.

'However, far from being 'Casualty' style security guards in quasi-military uniforms, our security team is likely to be a discreet 'blazer and tie' squad, blending with visitors and staff - but constantly vigilant.

'Continuing improvements to on-site security at the QEH have been made over recent years but have

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intentionally been low-visibility to provide reassurance to staff and patients without intimidating visitors.'

Last night a spokesman for the QEH, which recently became a foundation trust, said: 'A lot of hospitals have security staff but we never have.

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'The job's out to tender and we're expecting to have guards in place by Christmas.

'They're going to be discreet - they're not going to be big, burly guys in flak jackets.

'We don't want people to walk in here and think 'this must be a rough place - why have they got so many security guards.'

Until now, porters at the QEH have doubled up as security guards.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has always had uniformed guards, who patrol the hospital and car parks wearing stab vests.

And the James Paget University Hospital, at Gorleston, also has 'in-house security' in public-facing areas.

A report to the board of NHS Norfolk, which met this week, says there was an increase in what the health service describes as 'serious incidents' at the QEH from 10 in 2009/10 to 15 in 2010/11.

The classification includes sudden deaths, serious harm to a patient or staff member, and allegations of abuse.

One of last year's incidents concerns an allegation of child abuse against a staff member.

The hospital is also tightening security regarding foreign patients, after it emerged the NHS has written off millions owed by foreign nationals, who came to Britain for free treatment they were not entitled to.

An 'overseas visitor team' has been formed to establish whether patients are from outside the UK and whether they should be paying for their treatment.

Anyone who has lived anywhere outside the UK over the last 12 months will be interviewed by an overseas visitor officer.

The hospital says the vetting procedure would not hinder treatment for any life-threatening condition.

But a report to staff adds: 'The Trust has a duty to uphold the law and, where appropriate, ensure that we are properly paid for the service we provide.'

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