Care inspector could use hidden cameras

In the news, 15th October 2013: The new Adult Social Care Chief Inspector Andrea Sutcliffe raises the idea of using hidden cameras as part of the revamped inspection regime due in 2014.

This prompted discussions and debate across the news: those for the use (both care home owners already deploying CCTV and relatives who had captured poor practice and worse) and those against the use (the CEO of the National Care Association, and previously, the CEO of the National Care Forum).

What seems to be missing from the outset is clarity; clarity over who will be using the cameras and what they will be using them for. Consider the following uses:

  1. Covert use of cameras by CQC – in response to specific concerns, for the purpose of capturing information to prove or disprove those concerns and possible to support further regulatory actions.
  2. Covert use of cameras by concerned relatives and/or care home owners – for much the same reasons as the CQC, albeit to support complaints and/or disciplinary actions.
  3. Overt use of cameras by care home owners and employers – for…their own needs.

In all three cases there is the capturing of personal data: of staff, service users and possibly their relatives. Compliance with the Data Protection Act is therefore essential, as is adherence to the ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice and the Employment Practices Data Protection code (which addresses, in Part 3, pages 58-78, the monitoring of staff).

Is there any difference between the three uses outlined above?

Yes. You would expect the capture of data in cases 1. and 2. to be for a limited period of time – enough time to meet the purpose. That purpose is clear – capture enough data to support the investigation or concern, before moving to the next stage (e.g. regulatory or disciplinary action). Where the camera should be sited is also likely to be fairly clear – wherever is necessary to capture the specific activities under surveillance.

It is the third use – the ongoing recording of activities by care home owners – that stands out. Some questions immediately spring to mind:

What is the recording trying to achieve?

If it is improved standards, could this be achieved via other, less privacy intrusive (and possibly as costly) routes – such as thorough vetting and recruitment procedures; training; supervision, policy and procedures? If it is for peace of mind for service users and their relatives – can you be certain this is the only outcome? Could an unintended consequence be that service users are concerned or even fearful of being recorded the entire time? How can you maintain privacy and dignity for residents?

The ICO Code of Practice notes: “Using CCTV can be privacy intrusive, as it is capable of putting a lot of law-abiding people under surveillance and recording their movements as they go about their day to day activities. You should carefully consider whether to use it; the fact that it is possible, affordable or has public support should not be the primary motivating factor. You should take into account what benefits can be gained, whether better solutions exist, and what effect it may have on individuals.” Page 6.

Where should the camera(s) be positioned?

If cameras cannot cover all areas, which areas should be covered, and why? (This begs the question: if there’s an area not under surveillance, could someone causing harm to a service user in this space and remain undetected?)

Where should the ‘control room’ – the space where the feed from the cameras is viewed – be positioned?

How do you secure this area; who has access to it; who has access to the recordings?

What resource and tools are required to handle Subject Access Requests that might be made by service users and employees to access footage of themselves?

Anyone can ask for a copy of their own personal data, and the maximum you can charge is £10 per request. Access to CCTV footage is no exception. The process of redacting (removing) personal information of others (e.g. the bodies or faces of other residents) can require specialist tools, time and effort.

How long should the footage be retained for?

Retention periods should be linked to the purpose – and if your purpose behind making the recordings is to ‘improve standards’ how long will be long enough?

The Data Protection Act does not stop a Care Home owner installing CCTV – but the ongoing recording of all activity does require considerable thought; addressing the many questions posed by the ICO’s Codes of Practice is a good starting point.