NHS security staff at a hospital in London have been trialling the use of personal video cameras linked to memory stick-based recorders carried in their clothing.
The personal cameras, if widely adopted, could reduce the chances of attacks on NHS staff, though their use has already raised concerns that they could invade the privacy of patients.
Body-worn cameras can be as small as a button on a piece of clothing, though they were always visible during a trial at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. When linked to MP4 recorders, about eight hours of medium-resolution filming can be stored on an 8 GB SD card or memory stick. The equipment can also take photographs.
The trial at the Accident and Emergency department of The Royal London Hospital may lead to the body-worn cameras being rolled out to the rest of the trust.
The ethics of using personal video cameras in hospitals has not been the subject of debate or consultation. Last week nurse Margaret Haywood was struck off for secretly filming the abuse of elderly patients at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for BBC's Panorama. She was accused of breaching the confidentiality of staff.
Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, said: "There is still a debate about whether police officers should have this technology. If hospital security guards are going to deploy it without even any discussion of the ethics, that is worrying."
He added that any adoption of the technology would "show lack of respect for patients' dignity and human rights, a lack of respect we also see in medical record systems that share sensitive information without consent".
Former BT futurologist Ian Pearson has warned that the increasing use of surveillance technologies will lead to a public backlash.
A spokesman for The Royal London told Computer Weekly that a trial of the body-worn camera surveillance systems was carried out over two shifts and the results were "suitably impressive". He said that the cameras were not used in patient areas during the trial - but officials have not ruled out their use where patients are clustered.
In the pilot, the cameras were worn by the security officers who provide security in the A&E reception and the "area outside of the department". The Trust says: "It is hoped they will improve security and help with prosecutions by providing video footage of offenders. The cameras will not be used in any patient areas during the pilot. A review will take place at the end of the pilot to assess its effectiveness and the possibility of rolling out the system to other areas of the Trust".
The spokesman emphasised that the cameras were always visible - there was no covert filming.