Ministers consider staff body cameras to tackle NHS mental health abuse scandals

CCTV cameras in a corridor outside bedroom accommodation (PA)
CCTV cameras in a corridor outside bedroom accommodation (PA)

Ministers are considering the use of body cameras within mental health units as part of the government’s response to NHS abuse scandals, The Independent has learned.

Senior sources with knowledge of the conversation between the Department for Health and Social Care and the NHS have raised concerns about the plans. There are fears that using the technology in mental health units could have implications for human rights and patient confidentiality.

One senior figure criticised the proposals and said: “The DHSC are all talking about body-worn cameras, closed circuit TV, etc... The whole thing is fraught with huge difficulties regarding human rights, about confidentiality. They are thinking about it [cameras] and it is ridiculous.”

“They’ve watched the [footage] where Panorama and Dispatches have filmed people covertly and they think that if you have body-worn cameras you’re going to get similar [findings]. This is health. This is not prison.”

The Independent understands NHS officials have pushed back on the idea.

The DHSC’s mental health minister Maria Caulfield said in parliament earlier this month that she and health secretary Steve Barclay were due to meet with NHS officials to discuss what response was needed to recent exposes of abuse within mental health services.

It comes after a string of reports from The Independent, BBC Panorama, and Dispatches revealing abuse of inpatients. The Panorama and Dispatches reports included video evidence of abuse captured by hidden cameras.

The Independent and Sky News revealed reports of “systemic abuse” from at least 20 patients cared for by private mental health provider The Huntercombe Group.

Following a scathing independent review into the deaths of three young women, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust said it is piloting the use of body-worn cameras across 10 inpatient wards “to support post incident reviews for staff and patients.”

Labour’s shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has called for an urgent review of inpatient mental health services nationally, while many charities have called for a public inquiry.

Dr Allin Khan told The Independent: “The government must get a grip on the crisis in secure inpatient mental health units. This can only be achieved by rapidly reviewing services, putting patient voices front and centre and setting out a proper staffing offer – not by random policies that avoid tackling the root causes of the problem.

“Kneejerk reactions such as these do nothing to reassure patients and their families. It is clear the government does not have a grip on the crisis.

“Labour would put patient care first. We have been calling on the government to rapidly review mental health inpatient services and ensure that patients’ complaints about their care are taken seriously.”

Rheian Davies, head of legal at Mind, said: “While we understand the intentions of ministers here to provide more accountability for those working in inpatient mental health settings, we do not believe this knee-jerk reaction from ministers to the crisis in our mental health hospitals is the right approach to take.”

Ms Davies said warned many patients would feel uncomfortable being recorded and it could be a breach of their human rights.

She added if ministers want to get to grips with the crisis a public inquiry would be needed.

Ms Caufield said in response to urgent questions in the Commons she would not rule out a public inquiry but warned these take too long to complete.

NHS England wrote to all NHS mental health trusts and private providers asking them to review their safety measures onwards in October.

In a letter seen by The Independent, NHS England wrote to Greater Manchester Mental Health FT confirming it will commission an independent review into the failings identified by the BBC Panorama investigation.

Speaking at the NHS Providers conference last week Mr Barclay said in response to questions about mental health services:

“Probably one of the NHS England leaders, I meet most frequently is Claire Murdoch in my sort of brief tenure. So there’s a series of meetings there. We’re very focused on mental health, not least in lines of the urgent question last week, and some of the issues that arose in inpatient units.

“One of the things I’ve been talking to [Maria] Caulfield, quite a bit about is the paucity of data to better sort of identify those issues in terms of those inpatient [units] and we’re looking very closely at that…

“So there’s a lot of work parliament was focused on this last week, I had a series of meetings over the last week on mental health. I’ve commissioned work, as I say, through the relevant minister [in] my department, particularly looking… in terms of the inpatient care units and what’s going on.”

Body-worn cameras have been trialled at various NHS trusts in response to violence against workers. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust launched a three-month trial for staff within its emergency department in January.

Earlier this year Camden and Islington NHS Trust were forced to halt the use of CCTV within patients’ bedrooms after female patients and staff complained the constant surveillance was harming survivors of sexual abuse.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure anyone receiving treatment in a mental health facility receives safe, high-quality care, and is looked after with dignity and respect.

“We are considering what is needed to address wider failings across mental health inpatient care and will provide an update in due course.”