BBC producer Joe Plomin has written an expert guide to secret filming, a book that is essential reading for any care home operator considering using cameras as part of their care plans. In this extract from the book, Hidden Cameras: Everything You Need to Know about Covert Recording, Undercover Cameras and Secret Filming, Mr Plomin describes his experience of filming in care homes.
Care is the frontline for people doing their own secret filming at the moment in the UK. It is where covert recording is happening most right now.
When I worked in a an elderly care home undercover in my twenties, I witnessed poor care and mistreatment of people who had in some cases literally fought tyranny, people who were heroes and survivors of the Second World War.
One resident I will call ‘Sarah’ would frequently weep and complain, so she was labelled ‘trouble’. At the end of one shift, as I sat next to two care workers waiting to leave, I watched my collagues as they watched Sarah. They were laughing because she could not get into the building by herself in her wheelchair. They enjoyed watching her weakness and her struggle. On a different day, I walked along a hallway with two other care workers, including the most senior care worker in the home.
A third care worker was sitting in an easy chair in the hallway. Sarah was lying in bed sobbing just opposite where the care worker was sitting. Sarah was raising her arm out, asking the care worker to help her out of her room.
The care worker did not budge. The two care workers I was with asked the third one sitting down what was going on.
The care worker explained that Sarah wanted to get out of the room to see the sun. The care workers wanted to change her pads and leave her in her bed, because dinner was coming up. During the discussion that ensued, according to this care worker, Sarah had called her a bitch. So now the care worker was sitting outside watching Sarah beg and apologise. The other two started joking, egging each other on. They told each other she was a pain and should just be left. They got worse, building up until they were shaking their fists at her, shouting threats.
Entering that nursing home was like crossing into a different universe. Outside there were quiet suburban streets. Inside there was a netherworld of constant grey light and a regime and cluture that turned according to its own logic. The home ran according to the needs of the workers. Some of them were very nice to residents, but there were many who were not nice.
Without our secret filming, none of that would have been exposed. These types of problems had been picked up by the national regulator previously, but the problems had continued. The home had lost many good staff, and the people living there still lacked basic care. Even worse, like Sarah, sometimes they were being mistreated or threatened.
There was another another resident, I’ll call him ‘Samuel’, whose poor treatment upset me even more. Samuel had served in Africa during the Second World War. He had moved into a nursing home after a stroke left one side of his body paralysed. One morning I found that his urine had saturated his pad and soaked the bed. A good care worker said he suspected that Samuel had been left like that by the night staff. This care worker was disgusted. He said, ‘I wouldn’t want my dad left like this’.
Samuel could not dress himself, and on another morning, I helped him into his trousers. He pointed out that the zip was broken. He was worried his penis would be exposed. I went to his drawer and pulled out his blue trousers; the zip was broken as well. Samuel told me he had complained about this before. All his trousers had broken zips.
I got Samuel dressed as best I could and then found a care worker. This one wasn’t interested. She told me to ignore it. She said Samuel was ‘trying it on’ because I was new.
At the time, I wrote the following, under a pseudonym, for The Guardian newspaper: “The owners of the care home were informed of our investigation. They were told specifically that we had seen care staff ignore residents’ call bells, that some staff had been disrespectful towards residents and their needs, and that there were concerns about the level of hygiene and care that was provided. We detailed specific instances that would be shown in our film”.
A spokesperson responded to our concerns by stating: “We pride ourselves in providing a high quality of care, so we are extremely concerned with the points we understand may be raised in the programme. We notified the National Care Standards Commission as soon as Five [a UK television channel] made us aware of their undercover probe. We also launched an immediate internal inquiry, which is still progressing, and any shortcomings identified will be speedily addressed”.
We’d had no choice but to employ secret cameras. I am proud that we tried to do something to highlight and hopefully stop what was going on, to help those people to maintain their dignity.