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District nurses test tracking tech

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UK health service workers are to be tagged with electronic tracking devices in a pilot scheme designed to promote the safety of NHS staff who regularly work on their own, such as district nurses.

The scheme comes about in response to increased levels of violence against health workers. In the year to October 2003, 15 per cent of NHS staff suffered violence at work.

The NHS Security Management Service has made the protection of staff against violence and intimidation its top priority. Its idea to supply some of the most vulnerable staff - such as district nurses - with a locator device has won the cautious backing of Unison, the health service union. Workers' representatives are positive about the technology - subject to an agreement on guidelines that address lingering privacy concerns, the FT reports.

Trials will take place in Dorset and Manchester. Yorkshire-based electronic tracking firm Connexion2 is supplying the technology, called Identicom.

Here's how the hi-tech panic button works: locator signals on the device (designed to resemble identity badges) would be activated by staff in need of help or if the device is forcibly ripped off. Each is equipped with a Siemens dual or tri-band GSM module. Pressing a button on the back of the device enables a worker to covertly raise an alarm. The technology allows a third party to listen to what is happening and to record events. Radio signals from the device could also be used to locate a worker.

If the trials prove successful the NHS intend deploying Identicom widely across the NHS to up to 150,000 district nurses, according to Connexion2. ®

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