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Privacy concerns are raised after UK Health Secretary considers body cams for nurses

Body cams on hospital wards.

England’s NHS is considering giving nurses body cameras to “protect” against aggressive patients. The move appears to be an attempt by the government to solve the NHS staff striking problem and opens hospital wards up to video surveillance.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay proposed the measure to union leaders as a way to improve the working conditions of nurses as an alternative to increasing pay.

A trial at Oxford found that nurses feel safer when they have body cams. However, privacy activists have raised concerns over the possibility of private medical data being captured and transmitted to the police or even hackers.

To The London Times, the matron of emergency medicine at Oxford University Hospitals, Katy Mimpress, said that the government should consider adopting body cams for nurses after a trial at her unit provided “real reassurance” for nurses.

Body cams have been in use at John Radcliffe hospital since the start of 2021. Nurses turn them on when they feel a patient is becoming more aggressive.

At the beginning of the trial, only half of the nurses felt the body cams would have a positive impact. However, towards the end of the trial, the adoption rate had increased to about 90%. Mimpress said that the “phenomenal” results resulted in nurses in other departments asking if they could use the body cams.

Mimpress did acknowledge that some doctors have raised privacy concerns but argued: “We made it very clear that we were only utilizing the cameras for an episode of violence and aggression and has nothing to do with patient care.”

She added that the threat of turning on the camera made aggressive patients reconsider.

“If staff are frightened, they will very much embrace [the] initiative — people want to come to work and want to feel safe doing their job,” Mimpress said.
Security officials and the police have access to the video.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) safety officer Kim Sunley said: “There are widely varying views among nursing staff and patients on the use of body cameras, but nursing staff deserve to go to work knowing that they are not going to be the subject of violence.”

Rights advocacy group Big Brother Watch’s director Silke Carlo disagrees, saying: “There are better ways to tackle abuse against NHS staff than to turn nurses into walking surveillance cameras. The plans pose an unacceptable risk to patients’ privacy and dignity at the most vulnerable moments of their lives.”

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