Northampton General Hospital is reviewing its security procedures after a patient shot himself dead on a ward.

The 63-year-old cancer patient shot himself with a handgun behind the closed curtains around his bed. He died shortly after the incident on Monday.

The 28-bed ward at Northampton General Hospital was evacuated and closed for six hours. Patients and staff have been offered counselling and the hospital is reviewing its security procedures. The issue of how a gun was brought into the hospital has been raised in local press, by MPs and by patients' relatives.

Medical director Sonia Swart told HSJ: "Anything like this would prompt you to look at your security and we will be doing that; however it would not be practical to search patients whenever they come in."

Security searches

Checks are carried out on some patients' possessions on admittance, but the man had stayed for several weeks so could easily have been given items, she said. "I think any change will be around heightened awareness of anything that is regarded as suspicious."

Dr Swart said the priority after the incident was to treat the patient concerned and for police to ensure the firearm was safe. Staff then explained to nearby patients what had happened. "Quite a few were not able to take the information in," she said. "Those who we thought may become distressed later, we took to see our psychologist." Staff present were also relieved as soon as possible and offered psychological support.

The NHS Security Management Service, which provides guidance but said it was not responsible for its implementation, said: "All health bodies should have clear policies in place governing the searches of people and property." Guidance says that where weapons are "considered a serious problem... health bodies may wish to consider the use of specific equipment [to help] detect weapons".