Airport style scanners for weapons and drugs could be installed in mental health wards, a leaked email seen by HSJ has revealed.

The email is from Malcolm Rae, National Institute for Mental Health in England lead national officer, on behalf of Deborah Wildgoose, a clinician at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health foundation trust.

Sent to more than 100 NHS managers, government officials and regulators, it reveals the trust is considering scanning "for drugs.. and for the possession of other weapons/illegal items".

The trust had discussed putting a scanner at the entrance of adult acute mental health service wards, the email says. It notes that "there are new machines on the market that claim to be able to do this, generally from America and used in airports". It asks for recipients' views and experiences.

Mr Rae said trusts should consider bringing in the machines, but only after discussions with service users and the police.

"We don’t want to make wards over-secure [but] we have a responsibility to keep people safe," he said.

Controversial

But an anonymous mental health expert called it a "terrible" and "very controversial" idea that could distress people suffering from paranoia or depression: "It's completely wrong for mental healthcare."

Weapons were rarely a problem on wards, he said.

A spokeswoman for the trust said an informal information gathering exercise was being carried out to explore the "obvious ethical and legal concerns that may be raised".

She said: "We have to take into account the understandable concerns about the risks associated with patients and/or others bringing drugs or weapons onto our wards and the responsibility we have in protecting our patients and the public."

HSJ's Patient Safety Congress is on 30 April to 1 May.