Vertical Markets

Royal London visit

by Mark Rowe

One day the Queen does official opening honours, the next day Professional Security visits to hear about Royal London Hospital is seeking to recruit more female security officers. Mark Rowe hears from some of them, and others at the giant Whitechapel hospital.

Pictured in front of the plaque unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II the previous day: security officers Agnieszka Wojcik, Katarzyna Wiktor, Joanna Gorbaczewska and Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu.

Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu came to Royal London from work in retail; Kathrzyna Wiktor similarly from a shopping centre. Joanna Gorbaczewska was working on building site security for Skanska, the company that has built the new Royal London, besides working at pubs and clubs. Agnieszka Wojcik worked previously at the Olympics and Paralympics – ‘it was a really good experience’ – and in the security response team at Chelsea Football Club. The women in the security team of 44 only total five, which is a commentary on how far private security (and related occupations) have to go to bring in more women in front-line work. Not only at Royal London, nor in healthcare, but generally, security managers have said for years that they would like more women security officers, to do things that men cannot, or not as straightforwardly, such as search or eject women, and because women can do security jobs – part of the service sector, after all – just as well as men. Women are not men, but security is security; the women security patrollers do the same as the men, and wear the same uniform (black trousers, shoes) and kit (anti-stab vests, though women have a different shape). From talking to the women, and accompanying one on a tour of the hospital, the demands of the job, for man or woman, are plain; and some advantages from simply being a woman patroller rather than a man. The 12-hour shifts are two days, two nights, then four days off; and between the days and nights, 24 hours off. Every day is a challenge, the women agree; the answering of panic alarms, and difficult situations; stabbings; shootings. “Sometimes patients are making trouble so we have to go up to the wards and calm down the situation,” Joanna says. “There’s always something,” Kathrzyna agrees. But then Royal London is enormous; its 17 floors have some 190,000 visits a year; it has one of the largest maternity wards in the city. Besides serving the east End of London, it’s a landing place for the city’s air ambulance. For every patient (including children) coming in and out at all hours you may have upset relatives and friends. As in any hospital, patients may be aggressive or violent not out of malice but for medical reasons, as the overall NHS statistics suggest, featured in the January issue of Professional Security. How to calm someone, whether they are under the influence of drugs, or are unwell, or are angry? Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu says: “First and foremost, when you are called to deal with a situation, you have to assess the situation, and talk to the person, politely, like any customer that comes in. That’s what I do, most of the time. The person might be very aggressive, maybe because he or she has been given medication or has been talked to in a way she doesn’t like. I have to calm down the situation, reassure the person, and most of the time it does work; they will calm down and say ok, I am all right, so we don’t have a need for restraint or trying to do other things.”

The morning shift unlocks the hospital; the evening security officers control all the doors, letting people in and out, meaning more responsibility on the officers and indeed the CCTV operators. The Royal London has 1350 cameras, a HD IP system, and a neat and well-laid out control room that also holds keys. As elsewhere in London, nights can be busier than days; and Friday night is the busiest. What of the day-night shift pattern? Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu says: “For me, it doesn’t make any difference. When you first start with two days, and when you finish, you go from morning to evenings; you have a lot of time to recuperate yourself. When you finish in the night, you finish in the morning of the next day, you go to sleep and have one more night; so for me it isn’t an issue at all.” “I can say the same,” Agnieszka Wojcik adds. It’s interesting that the appreciation of a woman security officer doesn’t stop with female visitors and patients, but takes in the staff, whether nurses, receptionists or porters. Royal London was the first trust to employ a female imam; the hospital is in a largely Bengali neighbourhood. Joanna says: “When we see each other in the corridors, we are always saying, good morning, always saying hello,” as the security officers are there to reassure, resolve trouble, and to answer alarms. As a police-style response, this does call for physical fitness, as quite apart from the need for haste, it’s a long way from one end of the hospital to the other. Indeed it takes some time (as for anyone working there) to know where everything is. The women do get remarks (‘it’s really nice to see female security officers’) and gratitude from NHS staff, which makes the work seem more worthwhile.

I asked what might have sounded like – though it was not meant as – a trick question: what did these women hope to do? The unintended trick was if the women sounded as if they wanted to leave for some other work; but I asked them, because it struck me how police-like their job is. I wondered; did any of them have in mind a move into the police? Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu spoke of some day becoming an under-cover officer; Kathrzyna Wiktor did have the police in mind for the future; Joanna Gorbaczewska enjoys her job, adding that she had done HR at a Polish university; the police had evidently crossed her mind too, ‘but at the moment I feel comfortable here’. “Same here,” Agnieszka Wojcik said. Given that their work called for many qualities, it seemed quite right if they did look to gain experience and move on (or up, to team leader and beyond?). Women and men of ability progress in all occupations. Is one other way to see more women entering the security sector to have those women already in, recommending what they do to friends and family? Itohan Omorogbe-Momodu has encouraged a sister to get an SIA licence. The other women confirmed that friends have asked about their job. If it’s work you would like, it’s for you; if not, and it is hard work, it’s not; as in all things.

What the LSMS says

Stewart Russell is the local security management specialist (LSMS) and head of security for Barts Health NHS trust, that Royal London is part of. Ex-military, he’s been with Barts for 14 years. That health trust has six large acute hospitals, covering from the City to Newham, the middle of east London. As in other trusts, his role is security strategy, policy, dealing with crime; counter-terrorism; and dealing with VIPs, such as the Queen who officially opened the new Royal London, in late February. Stewart described the Royal London as very much the flagship for the trust’s security: “There’s a lot of work being undertaken with Carillion [the contractor] here, reviewing, streamlining, getting the best out of the contract we possibly can.” He praised the security team as ‘exactly the sort of security I would expect of any hospital. We are very lucky to be in a position where we are in a new hospital; we are also very lucky to be in a position where there has been a lot of investment in the security department; and sadly that is not always the case in the health sector. But certainly some of the lads – I say lads, but lads and lasses – have received a number of distinguished awards recently.’ Employing women officers has brought ‘massive dividends’; healthcare staff feel more comfortable with a more customer-focused, and friendly, approach, ‘because the female security officers have shown a great empathy and ability to de-escalate situations very quickly’.

Stewart was one of the first LSMSs in the country in 2004, and ‘it’s come on leaps and bounds’ since. The umbrella body for security management and counter-fraud in the National Health Service is now known as NHS Protect; Stewart praised the NHS Protect area man for London, Chris MacDonald; and indeed the sharing of ideas among NHS hospital security people in the city. As is inevitable in such a large body as the NHS, it’s taken time for the LSMS managers to make their name, whether inside the NHS or to others such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service. I asked how healthcare security compares with other sorts of security. Stewart spoke of the very wide range of security, ‘anything from electronic to manned guarding to royal protection. “My personal view is that, if you can do health security, you can do anything, to be honest.” Because all life comes through the front door? I asked. Stewart answered that in the corporate world, you can select who comes through the door; the healthcare security officer has to deal with people in pain and with a range of emotions; to enforce policy; and deal with crime.

The ops manager

Barry Rebairo, Royal London security operations manager, started in private security with Group 4, ‘as it was in those days. It was very rare we had female officers,’ he recalled. When he came to Barts, the trust had one woman security officer; and she left to work as a nurse. Yet, as Barry said, sometimes the female approach is better than the male, especially if Security has to do a ‘bed watch’ on a female patient. When the trust moved into the new hospital and expanded the security team, the department was keen to recruit as many women as it could. The first came from within; a cleaner. “Over the last couple of years we have been quite keen to get at least one female on each shift, if not more.” At Royal London, Security has the right under the Criminal Justice Act to physically remove people from the premises. If Polish-speaking or Bengali security officers are able to interpret for the eastern European and Indian sub-continent visitors, so much the better. As with much else about women in the workplace, the more women seen in security uniforms – and hospitals are largely staffed by women – the more you reach a balance between women and men in the team, the more it will encourage other women to join.

Barry Rebairo mentioned how front of house security officers wear shirt and tie, jacket and trust ID badge on a lanyard; a more corporate look than the anti-stab vest. Adrian Brewster, Carillion facilities manager – security, made the point that the public coming to Royal London are mainly visiting sick relatives, ‘and I would rather have them approach my security officers and ask for directions rather than looking at them and avoiding them’.

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