Are cameras in care homes a good idea?

The announcement by the Care Quality Commission that it will be issuing official guidance later in the month for secret filming in care homes, if mistreatment of residents is suspected, is sure to ignite the debate on the use of CCTV in care establishments.

CCTV camera

The use of cameras in care homes is always going to be a contentious issue.

With so many stories  of inadequate and, at worst, abusive care filling the news, it is inevitable that families are worried and want some way of checking what is really happening behind closed doors. The recent BBC Panorama programme that uncovered shocking abuse relied on secret cameras to provide the proof it needed of what was really going on.

Secret filming however creates a climate of blame and mistrust which is unlikely to improve the situation. Surely we need to develop a culture of honesty and openness across care settings, and this is unlikely to be achieved if frontline staff feel mistrusted and residents spied upon.

The CQC is under enormous pressure. Facing severe criticism after a series of abuse scandals in residential homes, Andrea Sutcliffe, chief of the Commission, has had to admit that “too much awful care” is happening in care homes across England.

In an effort to allay families’ fears, the Commission, while stopping short of actually recommending surveillance cameras, is certainly endorsing them by promising to issue guidelines on their use later this month. Ms Sutcliffe commented:

“There have been a wide range of views on this subject, from those who think that cameras should have been installed years ago, to those who think I am the devil incarnate for suggesting it.”

“We have decided that the best way to proceed is to issue guidance so those providers and relatives who feel the need to do it know what the issues are that they need to take into account.”

“Respecting the dignity of people is central.”

This is all very well, but here at Compassionate Care, we’re worried. Emphasis on surveillance and cameras does nothing at all to address what should be the key issue – how we go about addressing the symptoms that lead to poor care in the first place. Cameras may uncover the problems, but they do nothing to solve them.

Good quality care stems from the staff who provide it. Instances of good practice in care homes are no accident but the result of responsible ownership and management. Employing staff with the right values of caring and belief in dignity for the elderly is essential,as is then supporting the workforce  with ongoing training, good supervision and decent working terms and conditions. This of course requires proper funding. And here perhaps lies the crux of the problem. Local Authority cuts have placed huge pressure on the finances of too many care homes, with obvious knock-on effects on the levels of staffing, training and pay. If things are to improve, the status of our care workers need to be raised so that trust and public confidence can be regained.

Cameras have perhaps become necessary because the concerns of families have not been listened to. Complaints need to be taken seriously and acted upon. And for this to happen, a culture of honesty and openness is required, not surveillance and blame.

For further comment on this subject read:

Ros Coward : “Spying on carers risks damaging the trust we need to raise standards” The Guardian 7/10/14

Stephen Burke : “CCTV in care homes: secret cameras are not the way to improve care” The Guardian 8/10/14

“Relatives to be given official guidance on how to spy on care homes” The Telegraph 6/10/14