NHS psychiatric wards are video monitoring children and adults 24 hours a day, sparking privacy fears

by Raj Das

Children and adults with acute mental health problems in psychiatric wards across England are being monitored by an electronic system called Oxevision, which enables staff to view patients in their own bedrooms, even when undressed. The video footage, viewed remotely by staff from another room in the ward, has raised concerns among campaigners about patient privacy, safety, and consent. A new campaign has been launched calling for an independent inquiry into the use of Oxevision.

Oxevision was introduced as a “ground-breaking” innovation in psychiatric care, allowing clinicians to remotely observe patients 24 hours a day. The system uses an optical sensor with an infrared-sensitive camera to monitor patients’ vital signs and send them to screens or tablets used by staff. It can alert clinicians to potential risks or activity that may indicate a patient is at risk.

While Oxevision is legal and has been hailed as enhancing care on psychiatric wards, campaigners worry that it could be misused and infringe upon patient rights. Patients who are particularly unwell may be more uninhibited, and those who have experienced trauma from sexual violence may be particularly affected by the monitoring system.

Some hospitals have installed Oxevision only in women’s bedrooms, raising further concerns about gender-based privacy and safety. Campaigners argue that the system compromises patient dignity, can be open to abuse, and may impact individuals’ mental well-being and sense of security.

The campaign group Stop Oxevision has called for an immediate halt to the rollout of the system in hospitals and has launched a petition for an independent inquiry. The group argues that biometric surveillance without clear and unambiguous consent is unacceptable and that hospitals should exercise caution in outsourcing the care of vulnerable patients to a camera.

Although Oxevision has been credited with reducing self-harm, falls at night, and assaults on wards, opponents argue that machines should not replace human contact and that in-person checks are still necessary for a comprehensive assessment of patient welfare.

The concerns raised by campaigners highlight the need for a balanced approach to technology use in healthcare settings. While innovations like Oxevision can provide valuable insights and improve patient safety, it is essential to ensure that patient privacy, dignity, and consent are respected. An independent inquiry into the use of Oxevision and similar systems can help address these concerns and establish clear guidelines for their implementation in psychiatric care.

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