That’s why it’s so distressing that some people seem to want to make it even harder - and why most of us will be outraged to hear that as many as 8.6% of the elderly - over 800,000 of us in the UK alone - will suffer physical and psychological abuse of some kind, or neglect.
The data comes from charity Action On Elder Abuse, which adds that its dedicated helpline has heard from over 90,000 concerned family members and pensioners. Other data suggests the incident rate could be as high as 1 in 25 of the population.
Numerous hard-to-watch Panorama undercover films have made most of us assume that most of this unacceptable treatment happens in poorly-run care homes. The reality is that just as much happens in older citizens’ homes, but nonetheless that’s where we assume patients run a very high risk of, to quote the BBC, “a series of shocking incidents”.
Could technology help? Should patients be under 24x7 camera coverage? The problem with that idea is two-fold - there’s the quis custodiet ipsos custodes aspect (who is doing the filming, and why should we trust them?), and what some people see as the ban on such surveillance under the Human Rights Act.
Specifically, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 offers two key principles that are interpreted as covering patient videoing - Article 5 which concerns everyone’s right to liberty and security, and 8, which states that all of us has a right to a respect for their private and family life, their home and their correspondence.
‘Makes sure standards are always followed’
So - technology’s a dead end, it seems, when it comes to protecting the vulnerable, and can’t help the 400,000 or so residential care homes in the UK. Or is it? One care home that has a very different view is Zest Care Group in the West Midlands, which operates two homes, Bramley Grove and Bramley Court, in Birmingham. Its Home Manager, who looks after both facilities, is Ann Willey, who manages the 80 staff helping around the same number of residents.
Video has been great for us, as its promotes openness, helps reassure our patients that their security and care is guaranteed, and identifies any staff who may have a training need and that standards are always followed.
Willey says she’s achieving this with a service provided by a Belfast-based technology firm called Care Protect. The service works via a feed into its main office where footage is assessed by a number of external, professionally qualified care experts who abide by strict NHS rules about due of candour.
By offering a combination of the latest camera and secure cloud technology with this level of monitoring by his team of highly experienced independent experts, the company says it is helping health and social care organisations like Zest better protect both residents and staff. (The CCTV and cloud platform are licenced from another UK tech SME, Cloudview, which positions itself as offering a way to tune CCTV footage into visual data, make it available anywhere and leverage it using visual data analytics.)
That may seem surprising; why would carers want their work to be scrutinised by invisible ‘spy in the cab’ style monitoring technology - Big Brother, anyone? But it turns out that staff - though certainly initially very wary - have found that the independent video view of a reported incident can nine times out of ten resolve what could have been a very difficult issue or accusation, says Care Protect’s Managing Director, Philip Scott:
In our experience, staff quickly see the monitoring we provide as a back-up that can help defuse situations where the patient or family member feels there had been a need to investigate, but the evidence shows this was a misunderstanding or even didn’t happen at all.
My staff would stage a walkout now if I told them I was turning off the cameras.
Which part of dignity do you want to go legal on?
Without a doubt, all these positive findings are based on very small datasets. Care Protect says that it only has around 15 care homes (including the Birmingham sites) on-stream right now, despite a low service fee and the chance to boost third party quality control from the 12 hours a Home might get from its two annual regulator visits to more like 720.
But slowly, the tide may be turning. Scott told diginomica/government that he is about to sign a major contract with 24 of mental health units provided by an independent company. One told us that:
We adopted the Care Protect systems with two principal objectives in mind; To reduce actual/potential patient harm, and to provide independent third part professional daily review of our service delivery.
Some twelve months after installation and use of those systems, we have got to a point of absolute reliance on the services Care Protect provides. Indeed, young lives have undoubtedly been saved as a direct outcome of triggered alert response by the Care Protect team.
It’s possibly significant that despite this strong ROI, the organisation involved did not wish to be identified by name. Which brings us back to the legal aspect: if use of patient data is complicated enough in health and social care, visual data seems a bridge too far for many social care administrators.
Willey finds this frustrating.
People in the sector talk to me all the time about Article 8 and 5.
But they don’t talk enough about Article 3 - that no-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The UK health and social care sector needs to wake up to the potential of video assistance, and stop hiding behind the Act.
Is she right?
Maybe we’ll ask you next time you visit your Gran in a home - or when you get your own moving-in date.