Could sensor technology address CCTV privacy concerns in care homes?

Health tech startup says AI solution could offer peace of mind to families of elderly people.
By Tammy Lovell
03:21 PM

Health secretary Matt Hancock recently gave backing to a newspaper campaign calling for CCTV to be made compulsory in elderly care homes.

But privacy concerns have been raised by regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) around using surveillance in a residential setting.   

“Where and when such technology is being used, consideration must be given to important matters such as individual rights to privacy and dignity,” said Kate Terroni, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC.

Sensor technology combined with artificial intelligence (AI) has been suggested as one solution that could flag up health issues, while not invading residents’ privacy.

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors could be used as an alternative to CCTV to track unusual patient behaviour, such as when an elderly person has not moved for a long time, said Helen Dempster, chief visionary officer of health tech startup, Karantis360.

“Combined with an AI algorithm, once a pattern has been confirmed, care providers can immediately spot any behavioural changes that fall outside the norm or problems which could indicate potential medical issues,” she added.

WHY IT MATTERS

Care Campaign for the Vulnerable has been calling for a law to make CCTV compulsory in communal areas of residential homes, after several instances of staff abusing elderly people came to light.

But the charity Age UK has urged caution in installing cameras. “There are legitimate privacy concerns for older people, particularly if cameras are placed in bedrooms and bathrooms. Plus, questions arise about how those cameras will be monitored and how much of a protection they are really likely to be," said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

Although care providers are currently free to use CCTV, there no legislation has been announced to enforce its use.

The CQC has published information on its website setting out key issues for anyone considering the use of surveillance.

THE LARGER TREND

There has been a growth in technology to address the so-called ‘Silver Tsunami’ of older people’s health issues. 

German care-tech provider Media4Care is using tablet-based systems to support people with dementia and reduce cognitive decline and social isolation.

In Finland, a government push to encourage elderly people to stay in their own homes has led to the exploration of technological solutions to enhance community care. 

ON THE RECORD

“We know the right technology can genuinely empower individuals and help them to retain their independence and manage their health conditions,” said Abrahams of Age UK. “But to be effective we need investment and more research into support systems around devices to ensure they are usable, affordable and help the user and their carers.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said that it supported solutions “that help providers deliver more responsive, flexible and efficient care services”.