According to the Action on Elder Abuse organisation, more than 500,000 older individuals are abused within the UK each year, with physical abuse, psychological abuse and blatant neglect topping the list of mistreatment categories. Elder individuals with treatment needs can experience abuse in a number of settings, including their own home, a hospital, or a care home in which they reside. The prevalence of elder abuse within the latter setting is a stark concern not only for individuals supposed to be receiving care, but also among caregivers, family members, and care facilities alike.

To help combat the occurrence of elder abuse within residential care homes, a bold move was suggested throughout one of the UK’s largest care home providers. HC-One, a care facility that operates more than 227 homes throughout the region recommended the use of CCTV cameras in residents’ rooms to alleviate the potential for ongoing neglect or other harmful treatment from caregivers. That initial proposal was announced in 2014, with equal parts support and concern from regulators and care homes. Now, the debate lingers on as additional concerns for patients’ privacy come to light.

Care home surveillance

Residential Care Workers Weigh In

A recent study conducted on members of the GMB brought surprising results surrounding feelings about the use of CCTV directly from the resident care worker community. Of the 2,000 members surveyed, three in five care workers, close to 70%, agreed that installing visible cameras within residential care homes would be a beneficial tool in not only identifying elder abuse, but working toward preventing it as well. In the same vein, however, 71% of surveyed care workers felt that the presence of CCTV cameras may pose a threat to individual residents’ privacy.

One of the main pain points related to individual privacy rights behind the addition of cameras in residential care homes is directly correlated to the mental prowess of some patients. With a growing number of care recipients suffering from dementia, it is not a simple task to obtain informed consent from residents asked about the addition of CCTV cameras in their rooms. Instead, family members would be required to provide such consent for dementia patients, which presents a level of complexity to the situation that is not always practical to overcome.

Legal Views

Although care workers are among the growing group of proponents for CCTV cameras in residential care homes, there are ongoing debates over their use among legal experts. Not surprisingly, privacy is atop the list of concerns. Some legal professionals speak to the basic human right of respect for private and family life, home and correspondence, as clearly spelled out in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Others, however, speak to the benefit of CCTV cameras in the prevention of crimes against patients, and how that benefit may, over time, outweigh the privacy issues.

A firm of medical negligence solicitors, Patient Claim Line, advocates for the addition of CCTV cameras within residential care facilities, especially for those patients who are in vulnerable positions due to deteriorating health or mental incapacity. The firm reports pressure ulcers as an ongoing claim among patients and their family members – a condition of visible and painful sores occurring due to lack of movement. An individual who has issues with mobility, for instance, needs special attention given to shifting body weight on a consistent basis, generally with the help of a residential care worker. Failure to provide that attention falls under the category of neglectful care. Installing CCTV systems in residential care homes will certainly help reducing these number of cases.

CQC views

The Care Quality Commission provides some direction on handling the CCTV system debate. Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care with the CQC, explains, “For some, cameras and other forms of surveillance… are the answer. Others feel this is an invasion of people’s privacy and dignity.” While they neither support nor discourage CCTV system use, they have created some material by which care workers and facilities can operate.

Within the material made available through the CQC, care workers and facilities are provided a step by step guide for how to successfully implement a CCTV system while paying close attention to patients’ rights to privacy. The organisation notes that surveillance is not the sole solution to ending elder abuse, but when used correctly, it may prove beneficial in reducing the occurrence of neglectful care within residential care homes.

The debate surrounding CCTV systems within residential care homes may continue for some time among care workers, facilities, legal advocates and regulators. However, it is clear that the move toward surveillance is becoming more of a positive addition than a negative one, as a degree of inevitability grows. Before a CCTV system can be successfully implemented, care workers and patients must understand the purpose of each camera and feel comfortable that footage will be kept secure. Additionally, patients and workers alike must be made aware of the individuals who will have access to the footage, and must feel comfortable that reasonable steps were taken to obtain informed consent prior to a system going live.

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