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Big brother in NHS wards

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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The Guardian has recently reported on the Royal and Liverpool Broadgreen University Trust’s plans to install thirty surveillance cameras within their Intensive Care Unit, Kidney Dialysis Department and in one of their Operating Theatres. The cameras have been provided in a three month free pilot from US Firm, Arrowsight and ADT Security Services.

The cameras are intended to check whether staff wash their hands before dressing wounds, giving medication or working with intravenous lines, in an attempt to reduce the number of patients contracting MRSA and C difficile, which cost the NHS an estimated £1 billion annually.

In addition, cameras could be used to monitor immobile patients, ensuring that they are being turned on a regular basis in order to prevent the development of pressure sores, another source of clinical negligence claims against the NHS.

Surveillance within operating theatres is intended to ensure that the surgical team follow checklists prior to commencing an operation.

The use of cameras within hospitals once again brings to light the constant battle we face in balancing the right to privacy with the right to safety. Patients may appreciate the fact that staff are being monitored in this way, particularly if it substantially decreases their chances of suffering from a hospital acquired infection, although, there are many circumstances in hospital where privacy is important and a camera could all but remove a patient’s dignity.

From a litigation perspective, there may be a time in the future when clinical negligence solicitors can use video evidence as a basis for a claim. I suspect, however, that there will be many questions to consider from patients, clinicians and their unions before cameras are used extensively within NHS hospitals, even before the likely cost to the public purse is considered.

By clinical negligence expert, Gemma Crompton