Despite the high success rate and cost-effectiveness of RFID tagging, government hospitals where infant thefts and mix-ups were reported are yet to go for the device.
According to the records from Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital, Chennai; Kasturba Gandhi Government General Hospital, Chennai; Rajaji Government General Hospital, Madurai; and Institute of Child Health in Chennai — the four government hospitals in Tamil Nadu that have adopted RFID tagging to prevent incidents of baby theft — no incident or attempt to baby-lifting has been reported in any of these hospitals ever since the RFID tagging was implemented.
Dr K Kolandasamy, Director of Public Health, says other government hospitals too can well put up proposals for adopting RFID technology. “The hospitals that have adopted RFID tagging are the ones that have reported repeated cases of baby-lifting. Other government hospitals can also adopt such technologies to avoid such cases in future," he says.
However, that was not the case to be. There was much debate about the safety mechanisms in place at government hospitals after a six-day-old infant was stolen from a government hospital in Coimbatore in May 2019. A similar incident was reported in Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital in Chennai earlier. “Despite its success in hospitals where it has been implemented, the fact that other hospitals are shying away from trying out the mechanism is a cause of concern,” says a senior official with a government hospital which is yet to implement the same, pointing out that the device can help stop 'mix-up' cases of newborns as well.
“Though most of the government hospitals are under CCTV surveillance, they seem to be of no use in preventing these incidents. This is mainly because the access to the general wards, neonatal intensive care units, and paediatric wards are not controlled and any individual can enter the wards pretending to be a bystander or an attendee,” he adds.
Shanthi, a security guard at one of the wards at the Royapettah Government General Hospital, says there is no crowd control mechanism in place to check baby lifting. Also, CCTV cameras will not prevent such incidents, it can only help nab the culprit later. “It is very difficult to keep an eye on everyone round the clock inside a ward that has about 40-50 patients. There are visitors, multiple attenders and the hospital staff present most of the time. We are strict with allowing visitors other than during visiting hours and we only allow one attendee with the patient,” says Shanthi.
In the case of RFID tags, if anyone other than the mother or the attendant touches the baby, the RFID device lets out an alarm thereby alerting the security staff and others. It was Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital that received the RFID tag system the latest and hospital authorities say there have been no complaints of baby thefts since then.
“The system costs around Rs 8 lakh and includes the display and scanners attached to the computer software in which we feed the information about the baby, mother and the attendant. A green tag is given to the mother and an orange-coloured tag to the attendant. The RFID device will be affixed on the ankle of the child,” says Dr P Vasanthamani, dean, Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital, explaining the modus operandi, adds: “There have been no cases of baby lifting at the hospital since RFID tagging was adopted by the hospital.”
Housekeeping staff at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital as well as security personnel there find CCTVs of no use in curbing child-lifting cases.
“The crowd in the hospital, especially during the timings of outpatient services, is so huge that it is not easy to keep a check on every person coming and leaving the units and wards,” says Rajalakshmi, housekeeping staff at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.
The senior hospital authorities say that the CCTV cameras assist the hospital staff in coordinating with the police officers in case of any incidents of theft. “It is the job of police officers to track the children in case of any missing or theft charges. There are times when such thieves befriend the parents of the child. Otherwise, such incidents of baby lifting would have come down considerably over the years,” says a senior official from Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.
When contacted, the state health department officials say currently there is no programme in place for the security or management of the infants at the government hospitals. “We can work on a state-wide security programme in partnership with manpower service providers, or install security systems at the paediatric wards at the government hospitals in consultation with tech providers. While we are open to the idea, it can be decided based on discussions at various levels,” says Director of Medical Education Dr Narayana Babu.