Health Service Focus

04.04.17

How effective is your surveillance?

Source: NHE Mar/Apr 17

The surveillance camera commissioner, Tony Porter, reflects on how complying with his code could help trusts save money and improve the efficiency of their surveillance activity.

Early in the year, Home Office minister Brandon Lewis rejected the surveillance camera commissioner’s recommendation that NHS trusts should be regulated by his office in their use of security cameras, as “we had not exhausted the possibilities of increasing voluntary compliance”. 

In a letter to the government, the commissioner, Tony Porter, reflected that over the last three years his office had worked with NHS Protect to increase compliance with the code. 

He added that on two occasions NHS Protect had put forward proposals to amend its standards to include the requirement, at the very least, to require each body to complete the self-assessment tool and to derive an action plan for improvement based on the findings. But on both occasions this was rejected “on the grounds that NHS Protect could not enforce compliance with guidance that was not mandatory”. 

“Despite our best attempts, voluntary adoption has not worked here and with the changing remit of NHS Protect, it will be difficult without government intervention,” he concluded. 

Discussing the issue with NHE, Porter said in the absence of any mandate to adopt the code, which requires public bodies, such as local authorities and police services, to demonstrate a “pressing need” for the use of surveillance cameras, he would work “with government to look at how we can encourage NHS trusts and hospitals to voluntarily adopt the surveillance camera code of practice”. 

Reflecting on the size of the NHS estate, Porter stated that there is a lot of security cameras in use and the area is becoming even more complex with increasing patient numbers. 

“The problem that all the NHS has is the ability to measure whether it [surveillance] is any good or not,” he said. “When you multiply the expense right across the piece, it becomes quite a serious issue. The NHS is cash-strapped, as we all know, and there is a strong argument to say, ‘well, in this one area there is a balance between privacy and security – and cost must also have a place’.” 

Commenting on his past experience with local authorities and compliance with his code, Porter said “surveillance, frankly, has been useless”.

“They [councils] have been required to understand and reconfigure what that looks like, and I think the NHS could learn from that approach,” he added. “For instance, all trusts or organisations within the NHS should commission what we call a self-assessment of their own kit. This doesn’t require the use of expensive consultants. 

“The person responsible should be conducting a self-assessment, then publicising on the website how effective the surveillance is. It is a fantastic way of shining a light on a dark space. What it does, and we found this from many local authorities who have used it, is that it has drawn their attention to a whole number of things. Firstly, they might have the wrong surveillance. Secondly, they are spending money on kit that they could actually get rid of. And thirdly, that the balance between privacy and security hasn’t been met. 

“We would argue that if they followed my code of practice, not only would there be increased transparency and uplift in efficiency, but actually they would comply with the Data Protection Act – which is a bare minimum for anyone gathering data.” 

Porter added that when he submitted last year’s annual report to government, he saw an uplift in compliance to his code from 2% to 85% of all local authorities in England and Wales. 

He stated that this came out of discussions with CEOs and council engagement, and the potential to, effectively, name and shame. “With the NHS, it is something I will consider,” said Porter. “While they are not statutorily compelled, I do think there is a public interest argument to see whether they follow the best standards.” 

Earlier this year, Barnsley Hospital NHS FT became the first trust to achieve the first stage accreditation from the surveillance camera commissioner’s office and will be applying for full certification during 2017. 

“The independent assessment that underpins our certification provides the assurance that we balance how we site and use our cameras is in accordance with the government’s code of practice and 12 guiding principles,” explained Mike Lees, trust head of business security, adding that voluntarily submitting for assessment is a great step towards displaying openness and transparency of how it uses its 135 cameras. 

Porter stated that by complying with the 12 guiding principles in the code, and attaining the certification mark, Barnsley has demonstrated that they use “surveillance cameras effectively, efficiently and transparently”. 

“The advantages could be significant cost-cutting not just within the trust, but right across the UK,” he said. “All we are asking for is considered best practice, to reduce costs and raise standards. One local authority reduced costs by just under a third of a million, and cameras by 30%. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out what that might look like across the broad swathe of NHS estates that have security.” 

As NHE went to press, Porter was due to launch the National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales, which aims to provide direction and leadership in the surveillance camera community and enable system operators to understand best practice and their legal obligations.

For more information

W: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/surveillance-camera-commissioner

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