The issue of installing surveillance cameras in care homes is a controversial one. Action on Elder Abuse, an organisation dedicated to ending the scourge of abuse against vulnerable older people, has been grappling with this debate for some time.  We’ve heard about appalling cases of abuse and ill-treatment in care homes through our helpline, from verbal abuse and derogatory language, to horrendous physical abuse such as slapping, rough handling, and scalding. We also class neglect as a form of abuse, and we’ve been concerned to hear that this is sadly becoming increasingly common in many care settings.

So how do we put an end to this appalling treatment of some of our must vulnerable citizens? Should all care homes be required to use surveillance cameras as a hard and fast way to expose and prosecute abuse, or is this a massive intrusion of older people’s dignity and privacy?

Benefits of surveillance cameras…..

Using cameras in care homes is likely to be the ultimate deterrent against abuse and poor standards of care. Not only would it would make care workers think twice about the way they treat vulnerable older people, but it would also give residents and their families peace of mind. A recent poll by Care Protect found that 68% of those surveyed in Scotland said they would be more likely to use a care home for a member of their family if cameras were in place

Surveillance would provide undisputable evidence of poor care and abuse, making it easier to secure prosecutions, and would remove the need for hard-working and caring staff to blow the whistle on perpetrators – something which we know many workers find difficult and stressful.

However, the decision to install cameras should only be taken with the support of residents, their families and staff, and with clear policies on how it will be operated. Residents would need to be given the option of turning the cameras off in private spaces whenever they want, and footage should only be watched if there is a concern about a particular resident or worker.

The downside…..

Care home residents should have the same rights to privacy, dignity and respect as anyone else. While we appreciate that surveillance can act as a deterrent and means of prosecution, other less intrusive options can work better. Thorough recruitment systems and regular opportunities for staff support and supervision are essential, as are clear policies and reporting mechanisms when staff, residents or their family have concerns or suspicions. Making sure care homes recruit and keep the right people, with a caring and open attitude is vital – something which can only be done when care home managers create the right ethos from the top downwards.

While surveillance might be an option for some care homes, we’re concerned that only the best ones will choose to do this. Those with concerns about their staff are unlikely to install cameras, and unless it becomes compulsory for all care homes to do so, then it is unlikely to work.

Our thoughts

We can see the benefits of surveillance and appreciate it may work in some situations, but surely this diverts from the real issue – all older people should have the right to high quality care in our care homes, and no one should be living in fear of abuse, degradation or ill-treatment.  Abuse of vulnerable older people in any setting should never be tolerated. If this took place in a children’s home, there would be a public outcry – why should older people be treated any differently?