An official probe has been launched into a growing spate of thefts from across the NHS.

Thieves have been snatching everything from a mobile scanner unit, ambulance satellite navigation systems, patients’ belongings and even laughing gas - a trend described as a “real problem” by security chiefs.

They have asked every trust in England to give them details of thefts to see what improvements can be made.

Figures reportedly show there have been 57 “high-value claims” - those worth more than £20,000 - over the past five years.

Among the recent thefts were a mobile scanner unit taken by thieves in Corby, Northants, earlier this month, causing delays for around 70 patients.

More than 100,000 litres of laughing gas were also taken from Torbay Hospital in Devon in October - the second time in six weeks that the potentially hazardous material had been taken from the site.

And last month money and photographs were stolen from a pensioner as she lay in bed in Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

With some hospitals seeing as many as 8,000 visitors a day, the NHS is seen as being particularly vulnerable because of its public access.

Jill Abethell, who is overseeing the investigation for the NHS Security Management Service, told the BBC: “I think like any organisation open to the public there is that risk something can be stolen.

“We have heard of ambulances having sat navs and equipment stolen out the back while crews treat people on the street and laptops going from hospitals.

“We want to find out more so we can look to see if measures can be taken to protect property.”