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CCTV Camera trial in aged care – another moral dilemma

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As has been widely reported, the federal government is funding a $500,000 trial of surveillance and monitoring systems in aged care facilities managed by SA Health.

The 12 month trial will see cameras installed in residents’ bedrooms only. They will not be installed in bathrooms. The audio-visual monitoring systems will only be turned on if the resident chooses to have their care monitored.

In describing how the systems will work, Care Protect, the UK company providing the technology and monitoring it from its base in Ireland, provided assurances about the safe guards in place to protect the privacy and dignity of residents.

The information available on Care Protect’s website confirms that, in the UK, the use of surveillance technology in bedroom areas for residents who lack capacity varies based on local authority and application of the Human Rights Act (1998). The problem for Australians is that we do not have any legislation comparable to the Human Rights Act. Questions therefore remain about:

  1. How the rights of residents who do not have the capacity to choose or agree to surveillance of their bedrooms can in fact be protected;
  2. Whether the law allows substitute decision makers such as enduring guardians and attorneys to agree to surveillance on behalf of residents who lack capacity;
  3. Whether any changes to Commonwealth legislation such as the Aged Care Act will be able to override legislation in the states that contain the rules for substitute decision makers.

All we know from the media releases is that

  1. Cameras will only be activated in residents’ bedrooms with their or their family’s consent but nothing about how the laws about substituted decision making and the fact that whatever family members are being consulted probably cannot legally give consent on behalf of a resident ; and
  2. There will be a committee overseeing and evaluating the effectiveness of the trial but there has been no mention of any ethical oversight

Despite all of the evidence of abuse uncovered by hidden cameras I still find the suggestion that “Families will be able to watch their relatives in their bedrooms with their phones” chilling.

Perhaps the greatest moral dilemma of our time is how we protect vulnerable people whilst preserving their personal rights and dignity.

If you would like to read more about how aged care providers can respond to requests to have cameras installed please click here.

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