To begin to illustrate my views, I want to pose a scenario to you:
A man of 84 is living in a care home. He has advanced dementia, and requires all of his needs to be met by a skilled team of care professionals, assisted by his family. His family are not present 24 hours a day, so much of his care is provided by different care professionals. His family become concerned for his welfare when the ownership, management and staffing of the home changes . The home is frequently short-staffed and running on agency staff (who don’t even know who each resident is). The man becomes more frail, has more infections, begins to develop pressure sores and is being kept in bed more than normal. This is also true of other residents. The few remaining regular staff, including the man’s keyworker, express concerns about the way that they are being instructed to care for the man and how new staff are caring for him. The man is eventually admitted to hospital with pneumonia after aspirating on his own vomit five times. The hospital are so concerned about the condition of the man that they make him the subject of a safeguarding order. He never fully recovers from the pneumonia and passes away four weeks later, less than two weeks after his 85th birthday.
That man was my dad.
I repeatedly raised concerns about my father’s care with the care provider after the changes in ownership, management and staff. Eventually I had to resort to phoning CQC three times before they would take my complaint seriously. They inspected, but then took two months to produce a report. It was too late for my dad. His keyworker, a wonderful care professional who had diligently looked after my father for eight years, was as heartbroken by the way in which the care deteriorated as we were. Indeed that care professional, and his colleagues who had assisted with looking after my dad for many years, found alternative employment and left the home: they simply could not stand to deliver care in the way that the management wanted it delivered.
On the night my father aspirated on his own vomit, we believe he was put to bed too early and given a milky drink in bed without being properly upright – all of those actions going directly against our wishes and the recommended advice for his care from doctors (the management made their own care plans without our consent). The doctors treating my father at the hospital didn’t believe he would pull through the night – aspirating on your own vomit is a bit like pouring acid into your lungs they said. Imagine how that felt.
We will never really know what happened that night, because despite asking the staff on duty, no one could explain. I dearly wish we had had a hidden camera in my father’s room that night, and indeed in the months leading up to that fatal incident. I know it would have proven the poor care my father was subjected to, and it would also have proven some of the good care people like his keyworker provided, often fighting against the management to do what was best for my dad.
Do I think cameras should be routinely installed into care homes? No I don’t. But potentially they do have a value in certain specific circumstances when there are grave concerns for a person’s welfare that only indisputable footage can prove. Currently surveillance is limited to the few families who have installed hidden cameras to prove that their relative is being abused, or places like Winterbourne View that needed Panorama cameras to expose the appalling treatment being meted out.
It must be remembered that some people don’t have a family to monitor their care. People with dementia, learning disabilities and other conditions cannot always articulate what is happening to them. Proving how injuries are sustained can sometimes be one person’s word against another’s. Poor care many only really come to light following a crisis point when a person is admitted to hospital in a condition that no amount of treatment can cure, or it many only become evident on investigation after death.
I want to pose another scenario to you:
A lady living with dementia in a care home, almost completely deaf and blind, begins to lose a dramatic amount of weight and is always thirsty when her family visit. The family suspect she isn’t being fed enough. They often find drinks that have been left out of her reach, and suspect that staff aren’t communicating with her appropriately. She eventually passes away at a weight that would be considered severely malnourished.
I knew this lady, and her family agonised over what happened to her – a camera would have given them answers, and potentially ensured she received better care.
Dignity, privacy and respect are all vital in any care setting, but there is nothing dignified or respectful about elder abuse or premature death from negligence that hides behind a veil of privacy. Such practices – that are in the minority - must be rooted out: they taint the vast majority of wonderful care that is being provided. A hidden camera can prove or disprove allegations and suspicions, and it could potentially work in many different ways. For example: It can prove that a care worker is acting inappropriately. It can prove when a provider is negligent in not giving their staff the equipment or training needed to perform a task or to keep a person safe. It can assist a care provider to root out poor practice that they suspect an individual employee of but need to prove. It can show if a person receiving care has had a harmless accident or is self-harming. It can provide evidence if a family are being abusive, either towards their own relative or towards staff (yes, it does happen).
Cameras could also be helpful in certain specific circumstances in people’s own homes, where they are receiving home care or care from a family member, friend or neighbour.
Consider this scenario:
Two elderly sisters live alone at home. A neighbour ‘befriends’ them. That neighbour manages to persuade them to sign a Power of Attorney and then gets control of all of their money. She tells them that they are now so poor they cannot afford heating. Professional carers often come in to find these ladies cold and hungry. One of the sisters develops hyperthermia. Eventually they end up in care, virtually penniless.
I knew these ladies – could a camera have helped them, and brought the person who prayed on them to justice?
Clearly there are huge ethical, moral and legal issues with the use of cameras in any setting, particularly if those cameras are hidden. Whether a policy allowing the use of hidden cameras in adult social care will ever be created and implemented isn’t yet decided – this is merely an idea that has been put into the public domain for debate. Personally I welcome healthy discussion on any proposal that could help to safeguard our most vulnerable people and stamp out elder abuse. I don’t believe sensitive use of such cameras in a minority of isolated cases would undermine the morale of social care professionals. In my mind, those who are providing good care have nothing to fear.
Until next time...
Until next time...
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