Hidden cameras could be used as part of measures to prevent abuse in care homes under new proposals, but campaigners warn they could create a “Big brother culture”.
Andrea Sutcliffe, the new chief inspector of adult social care, said there was a need for a “proper conversation” about the use of hidden cameras, after the move was raised with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
She told BBC Breakfast that the first port of call for worried relatives should be the care home itself – but she did not want to “duck” the very difficult issue of hidden cameras.
“I think that there are other ways that people can approach the local service provider, talk to their relatives, talk to other relatives and there are all sorts of things that I think people can do before they get into that very difficult situation,” she said.
“The most important thing that they should be doing is talking to the care home, talking to the manager of the home directly,” she added.
“We know from the work that we have done that that is really important. The way that managers lead their team and provide the support and training for their staff is incredibly important. So if somebody does have any worries or concerns, that is their first port of call.”
Ms Sutcliffe was speaking as she outlined her priorities in a document published ahead of a public consultation next spring.
The document, entitled A Fresh Start For The Regulation And Inspection Of Adult Social Care, states: “We would… like to have an open conversation with people about the use of mystery shoppers and hidden cameras, and whether they would contribute to promoting a culture of safety and quality, while respecting people’s rights to privacy and dignity.
“Such a conversation should cover the use of these techniques by the public, providers, or CQC.”
Davina Ludlow, director of care home directory carehome.co.uk, warned about the possible impact on care users and staff.
“Whilst safeguarding is vital, so too is dignity and privacy,” she said.
“We urge full and meaningful consultation before digital spies infiltrate the care sector.
“Not only will covert surveillance impact on residents’ freedom, it may also have a knock-on effect on the motivation of staff.
“We need to train, support and inspire the next generation of carers, not create a Big Brother culture where people are afraid to do this vital job.”
Other proposals include awarding ratings to every care home and adult social care service by March 2016 to help people make informed decisions about their care.
Ms Sutcliffe, who started in her job last week, also wants to recruit an army of ordinary people with personal experience of the care system to help carry out inspections.
She said: “This is a fresh start for how care homes, home care and other adult social care services are inspected and regulated across the country. I will be leading CQC’s new approach by making more use of people’s views and by using expert inspection teams involving people who have personal experience of care.
“We will always be on the side of the people who use care services. For every care service we look at, I want us to ask: ‘Is this good enough for my mum?’ If it is, this should be celebrated. If not, then as the regulator we will do something about it.
“Adult social care is the largest and fastest growing sector that CQC regulates and so it is imperative that we get it right.”
A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: “We welcome these plans to overhaul adult social care inspections at a time when public confidence in the care sector is at an all-time low.
“With most adults in the UK scared of moving into a home and care in the community often failing to meet people’s needs, we desperately need to restore faith in services.”