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Is there a case for CCTV to be installed in all care and nursing homes?

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The seemingly endless catalogue of abuse and neglect at residential care and nursing homes continues, despite promised improvements.

Inspectors of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found a number of serious issues and four staff members have been arrested following reports of the ill treatment at the Fosse Court Care Home in Leicester. In North London, carer Faderera Grace Bello was sent to prison after family members secretly filmed her abusing their elderly relative Bridget Rees at the Mary Seacole Nursing Home.

Mrs Rees’ family has called for CCTV cameras to be placed in all care and nursing homes. There are echoes of the Winterbourne View scandal here, where evidence of neglect and abuse also only came to light after relatives also arranged secret filming, as exposed by the BBC Panorama programme.

Bridget Rees suffers from Alzheimer's and is dependent on nurses for all her needs. On December 6 2013 Bello was seen verbally abusing and manhandling Bridget. After the management at the care home saw the footage, Bello was suspended. In February 2014 she was arrested and charged with wilful neglect and sentenced to four months in prison.

The family has called for CCTV to be installed in all care and nursing homes as a matter of course. Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents the interests of not-for-profit health and social care providers in the UK, says surveillance of this kind cannot be justified unless there are strong suspicions of abuse or neglect. However the family point out that it was only through the use of the secret footage that they could provide the evidence to support their suspicions.

Jenny Moore, founder of the Your Voice Matters Campaign is enthusiastically behind the idea of CCTV installation in all care homes. She points out that police have had CCTV installed in cells for many years to protect those in their custody and their own professional reputation. Nurseries looking after babies and small children have CCTV installed, as do supermarkets and shopping centres. She maintains that recent experience has shown that the only way to expose care failings for the most vulnerable is to film it.

Sarah Cunliffe, a solicitor with Shoosmiths specialising in care home abuse and neglect cases, said:

“Families find it difficult to establish what happens behind closed doors in a residential care home. Frequently, they must obtain evidence themselves by whatever means possible since poor record keeping by staff impedes proving that abuse or neglect has occurred.”

She maintains that relatives with well founded suspicions should write down what they see and hear. Often that will provide sufficiently compelling evidence without the need for covert filming, but however they gather such evidence, Cunliffe is adamant that the most important step for concerned relatives to take is to quickly seek legal advice the minute their suspicions are aroused.

Aside from issues of who would pay for it and who would monitor and regulate it, even if CCTV were compulsory in all care institutions, the collapse of Operation Jasmine, the UK's biggest ever care home abuse investigation conducted in South Wales, shows how things can go awry because evidence ‘went missing’ or could not be accessed. Inadvertently wiped tapes or ‘technical’ issues with ‘official’ CCTV footage might be just some of the events that could confound efforts to get at the truth.

Cunliffe concludes:

“There are issues of privacy, dignity and the interpretation of the Human Rights Act involved in making CCTV compulsory and universal. What is of paramount importance is the safeguarding of vulnerable residents. Rather than relying on a ‘big brother is watching’ approach, perhaps standards can be enhanced by making caring in these institutions a better paid and more respected and rewarding career, with more rigorous recruitment criteria, on-going training support and much more regular supervision.”

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