HOSPITALS in the News Shopper area have been forced to take extra measures to stop people stealing and drinking an alcoholic hand wash.

Both Lewisham Hospital and Queen Mary's Hospital, in Sidcup, have moved the handwash which is used to fight superbugs such as MRSA, to more secure locations in the building's public areas.

The colourless gel contains 70 per cent alcohol and, according to homeless charity Thamesreach, there is a trend among people sleeping rough on the streets to drink it.

At Lewisham the handwash was moved from corridors to the inside of the wards where nurses can monitor its use.

The hospital says it made the decision in order to prevent people stealing and possibly misusing the hand wash, called Spirigel, which has been stolen from the building 10 times since last April.

A hospital spokesman said: "Cleanliness and safety for our patients is a priority and the impact caused by moving the hand wash is exactly the same as before."

Queen Mary's Hospital, in Sidcup, has also experienced problems with people attempting to drink the hand wash.

However, the hospital has now placed the gel behind the reception desk in A&E and patients have to ask if they need to use it.

A hospital spokesman said: "We don't allow it to be freely available in A&E as it is an area where we're likely to get a very small number of people who could potentially abuse the product."

Both Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Woolwich and Darent Valley Hospital, in Kent, say they have had no reported incidents of theft or abuse of the product.

A spokesman for Bromley Hospitals Trust, which includes Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough, says it has not experienced any problems but is monitoring the situation.

An inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court, on August 5, heard how two homeless eastern Europeans were found dead in a Streatham squat after drinking the gel in February.

In response to the deaths Thamesreach is now pushing for the manufacturers of the gel to take more responsibility.

A charity spokesman said: "The onus is now on the makers of these gels to clearly label how poisonous these products are, while removing, or at least concealing, the reference to alcohol content."