Big Brother is watching!

Exploring how modern CCTV systems are being used in hospital environments

Think of CCTV and you will probably picture ‘big brother’ cameras watching your every move. But modern systems used by hospitals, surgeries and care homes are now expected to do a lot more than just provide photographic or video evidence. This article explores how technology has evolved in recent years

“Within hospital environments, video surveillance specification is more and more about sweating the assets. For the NHS, in particular, cost is always going to be a priority, and trusts are asking what more they can get from their systems.”

This observation by Simon Cook of video surveillance software provider, Genetec, is evidenced by a new generation of video surveillance solutions being installed at health and social care facilities up and down the country.

Within hospital environments, video surveillance specification is more and more about sweating the assets. For the NHS, in particular, cost is always going to be a priority, and trusts are asking what more they can get from their systems

In the same way that the arrival of Internet Protocol (IP) revolutionised nurse call systems, the move towards plug-and-play IP solutions is bringing a whole new dimension to video surveillance too.

Where nurse call communication handsets are now expected to deliver a host of other benefits such as lighting and heating control, camera systems are increasingly being used to solve problems with parking, track equipment, and verify identity and control access in high-security areas such as maternity and drug dispensaries.

Advanced technology

Cook explains: “It’s not about just surveillance now, but security as a much broader platform. Previously systems wold be specified by, and paid for out of the budgets of, security managers, but now we are finding receptionists, facilities managers, car park attendants and staff nurses getting involved.

“While the front end is the same for everyone, they will use the system for different reasons based on pre-agreed privacy settings.”

Traditional images and video footage is still needed, but many modern solutions now include motion detectors so that if someone enters a corridor or room that is not usually used, or is subject to restricted entry, cameras can be activated immediately and an alarm sounded. Swipe cards can also be matched to the person using them via facial recognition features.

A key benefit of this is that staff from different departments can ultimately share the cost of the system, rather than security footing the bill

Cameras are now routinely high definition, with pictures up to 16 megapixels in size, which will show a subject clearly at up to around 50m.

“Cameras are pretty advanced these days, but it’s now about much more,” said Cook. This includes using cameras and add-on technology to monitor parking on hospital sites. Cook said: “We are working with one hospital that has a big problem with staff parking including sharing of permits and people parking in the wrong places, basically taking advantage of an archaic system.

“They have introduced an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system and all vehicles are now registered. This is monitored as part of the same security platform.

“A key benefit of this is that staff from different departments can ultimately share the cost of the system, rather than security footing the bill.”

RFID tracking technology is another add-on being specified more and more by hospitals.

“This can help facilities managers to track items through the hospital by linking them to video footage,” said Cook.

“Security can also use the system to see what is happening before they are called to an incident, for example in an A&E department.

A new era

“It’s about asking much more from solutions and making sure that third-party equipment works with their existing CCTV technology. Scaleability is important for CCTV providers. Hospitals want systems to grow easily without them having to rip out and replace.

“Rather than just reacting to something that is happening, they need to be more pro-active and that is what we are increasingly seeing within the marketplace.”

Significant improvements have been made in recent years in terms of image quality and the sector is moving towards digital and networked systems as technology progresses

Chris Broughton of Ward Security agrees. He told BBH : “Gone are the days when you put up CCTV for its own sake.

“We are making cameras much more intelligent. It might be setting cameras so they activate if someone under a certain size leaves a children’s ward at a certain time; or if a package is left in a restricted area.

“Increasingly, they must also be linked to Building Management Systems (BMS) so they create an audit trail, providing important data for hospitals.”

When specifying systems, trusts have a new tool in the shape of a guidance document recently published by the British Security Industry Association (BSIA).

The handy ‘standards map’ is an interactive PDF which gives buyers a snapshot of the minimum standards they should require from a potential supplier.

A BSIA spokesman said: “Significant improvements have been made in recent years in terms of image quality and the sector is moving towards digital and networked systems as technology progresses.”

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