A caring nurse comforting an elderly lady in a wheelchair.

A number of scandals have hit the care home sector in recent years. Abuse, neglect and poor standards have unfairly tarnished the entire care sector due to the actions of a small minority. Sadly, this has caused a drop in confidence in the services provided to our families and loved ones in their times of need. This drop in confidence has led to a number of people monitoring the treatment of their relatives, either with hidden spy cameras or listening devices, sometimes both. While this may feel like a breach of trust between the observer and the patient, it is often the case that the patient is unable to report or resist poor care or neglect by themselves, leaving surveillance as the only option.

The Care Quality Commission, England's independent regulator of health and social care, has advised concerned family members that they may conduct their own surveillance if they suspect their loved one isn't receiving the required standard of care. Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe, said: "We all want people using health and social care services to receive safe, effective, high quality and compassionate care.

It is what everyone has a right to expect. "Sadly, we know that does not always happen, and the anxiety and distress this causes people, either for themselves or a loved one, is simply awful. "For some, cameras or other forms of surveillance, whether openly used by services or hidden by families, are the answer. Others feel this is an invasion of people's privacy and dignity. Many don't know what to do if they are concerned.

"For more than a year, we have been talking to people who use services, their families and carers, as well as providers about this hugely controversial subject. They told us that information from the regulator would be helpful.

The law around monitoring care home rooms

The legalities of surveillance in private and public property hinge on two key factors, consent and a reasonable expectation of privacy. The first often supersedes the second, meaning if you consent to have a spy camera installed in your room, you can't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Monitoring in a care home is complex because a care home is both a private residence and a workplace. It is legal to monitor people in their place of work, provided they consent.

In most cases, this consent is achieved with a clause in the employment contract. In cases where surveillance is used to detect unlawful, neglectful or otherwise undesirable behaviour as part of a legitimate investigation, consent is not typically required. In cases where a patient is incapable of giving consent, for example, if they are suffering from dementia or are otherwise unable to understand the consequences of surveillance, their family may make the decision for them.

This is made easier when the family has power of attorney. Further complications arise when one considers the privacy of other residents in a care home. Can a resident who pops into a neighbouring room for a chat and a cup of tea have a reasonable expectation of privacy? In strict legal terms, family members can install a spy camera into a private room without breaking any law. Problems arise, however, if they fail to take reasonable steps to safeguard any footage gathered.

For example, if they were to upload some of the footage to Youtube and, in doing so, reveal the identity of another resident, they could be found to be in breach of the Data Protection Act. In terms of monitoring staff, the Data Protection Act sets out that when conducting surveillance, footage should only be shared or distributed if it is part of a legitimate investigation. If you film a nurse taking care of a relative and he or she shows no sign of being negligent, incompetent or abusive, it is legally questionable at best to share that footage.

Suspecting that your loved one is not receiving the care and respect that they deserve is a highly stressful situation. Often the only way to put your mind at rest - and in some cases, put an end to poor treatment - is to invest in the peace of mind that surveillance equipment can offer. For more information on the laws surrounding the use of spy equipment, see our in-depth guide.