Care home reveals why it took the controversial step of installing surveillance cameras

Sunday, May 10, 2015

At the beginning of this year, Wensley House in East London, joined a tiny minority of care homes in the UK, in installing CCTV to help act as a “deterrent against abuse” and to give residents and their families “peace of mind”.

The home now has surveillance cameras in all the communal areas and in every bedroom.

It was a bold move by Jonathan Beling and his father Patrick, directors of Wensley House, and they admit they were “pleasantly surprised” with how positive the staff were.

“Before we rolled out CCTV we wrote to all of the residents’ next of kin telling them what we planned and asked them to voice any concerns. We also wrote to all of our staff and it was discussed casually in the run up to the roll out. We were pleasantly surprised with the positive response to having CCTV and I think this is a reflection of the high calibre of staff here,” says Jonathan Beling.

The whole issue of covert and overt surveillance in care homes came under the media spotlight last year when the CQC (Care Quality Commission) decided to publish guidance on surveillance in care homes for both care home providers and the general public.

The use of CCTV in care homes has long been a topic for debate with some families of abuse victims calling for widespread use, claiming it is the only way to catch abuse or neglect.

CCTV should never be considered 'a substitute for care'

Mr Beling didn’t have any families or residents asking for surveillance cameras but decided to install them “as an extra tool that can be used in delivering care” but he stresses that “generally we don’t believe CCTV should ever be considered a substitute for care neither should homes expect it to eradicate abuse if they face such problems – abuse is eradicated by working very closely with staff and spending a lot of time at the home”.

Cameras were introduced into the care home at the beginning of this year, when Wensley House was undergoing a massive renovation. Mr Beling has found that installing CCTV in the home has been quite a complex process.

“When you think about installing CCTV, there are a number of steps you need to take. There is the financial cost to consider. You also have to ensure that you have a locked room where the footage can be stored where people can’t access it. You also have to have a process in place stating in what circumstances you would check the footage. On top of this is the amount of communication you must have with all concerned to ensure everyone is on-board.”

The footage can only be seen in the director’s office and only the next of kin can view it. The family of the residents have to have a good reason to watch and they can’t just randomly go and watch CCTV footage of their relative. “There has to be a genuine reason such as their father or mother has had an ‘experience’ they are not happy about. We would discuss it and look at footage from the time of the incident,” says Mr Beling.

“This is not a CCTV system where all the footage is being viewed on a screen and watched all of the time. It is footage that is temporarily stored and used only as a tool provided there is sufficient reason to do so.

Optional for residents

“So even though we have cameras in the bedrooms, it certainly does not mean someone is watching you the whole time or at all. That is where it must be clear that CCTV is not a substitute for good, professional care.

“We are very respectful of the residents’ privacy and dignity. Residents and all new residents are made clear CCTV is completely optional and if they don’t want CCTV, then we turn the feed off, simple as that.

“We have an excellent relationship with the residents and the staff and I and my father are very hands on. I work shifts at the home so I always know what is going on and of course we will be on CCTV too,” he says.

Jonathan and Patrick Beling have a very stringent process when it comes to employing their staff. “We look for people with a warm, caring personality. We also watch them when they come for the interview and see if on their way out they make an effort to talk to the residents. The training and job success will all fall into place if the person’s heart is in the right place.”

Mr Beling believes the CQC may eventually go as a far as requiring all care homes to have CCTV if residents want it. “This may be the next logical step for the CQC – there have already been many discussions within CQC about hidden and open surveillance in homes particularly as CQC seems to be going down the route of wanting more and more information from care homes with a heavy focus on transparency,” he says.

At a debate last year on the issue at the Community Care Conference: Safeguarding adults in care homes and hospitals, Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said that he believed “cameras are not going to catch the real abusers. We are getting caught up in a debate about cameras when they are a symptom of the problem not the problem.

“I think covert surveillance is a diversion from the real issue which is how do you establish good quality care in our care homes?” However it is overt surveillance rather than covert surveillance that is being done at Mr Beling’s care home and he believes that “generally speaking CCTV does act as a deterrent otherwise it wouldn’t be a booming industry. If you know that your actions are monitored or incidents can be retrospectively viewed surely you would think twice. Ultimately you would want CCTV to be a deterrent in any home rather than an investigative tool”.

It is 'peace of mind'

He understands why for families and residents “it is peace of mind” and says: “With CCTV, it is about making sure we are not being intrusive and respecting the privacy and dignity of our residents. “It is not for me to state why some homes may not choose to have CCTV as an additional tool for care. Certainly there are some other well-run homes which may simply be of the view that it is not needed or not financially feasible.”

However, he says that given “some of the heart-breaking exposure we have seen recently there may be a very small number of homes who would benefit from some form of surveillance”.

“Care homes where staff welcome the use of CCTV are likely to be the homes where CCTV is not required, where abuse is not an issue. But that does not automatically mean that any home without CCTV is trying to hide something; having a fire extinguisher doesn’t mean that there is going to be a fire”.

Working from offices in Stoke-on-Trent, Cream Care is a name that is synonymous with Health & Social Care recruitment in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire. Established in 1973 we have become the first choice Recruitment Agency for job seekers and employers throughout the region.

To contact the Cream Team about recruitment send an e-mail to:  or call: 01782 261552.

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