The University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) has deployed heat-detecting cameras in an effort to protect front-line NHS workers and patients from a second wave of Covid-19 cases. It claims to be the first NHS trust to use such technology to detect patients who may have the coronavirus.
Temperature surveillance systems that have been trialled in public spaces such as airports and restaurants are now also starting to be deployed in the healthcare sector.
Royal Stoke University Hospital in Staffordshire, which is run by UHNM, has installed the first of eight thermal cameras in an initiative funded by the Denise Coates Foundation charity, which has put forward £10m for the trust to fight Covid-19.
The hospital plans to place thermal cameras at the entrance of X-ray wards and cancer wards to scan non-Covid-19 patients as they enter the building.
Royal Stoke University Hospital has been divided into “blue areas” for Covid-19 patients and “green areas” for all other patients.
It plans to install six more cameras at the entrances to green areas.
The thermal scanning systems, developed by IT solutions provider SCC, use ceiling-mounted camera units that measure people’s body temperature.
Although the cameras are claimed to be able to identify individuals with a fever, SCC said the technology is “no silver bullet” for detecting Covid-19 without other measures in place.
“It is by no means, in its own right, a very accurate tool [for identifying Covid-19],” said Dan Cartter, head of innovations at SCC.
Privacy campaigners such as Big Brother Watch have highlighted concerns that thermal-imaging cameras may be an intrusion into the public’s privacy, but SCC said no private data is “recorded or stored” by the cameras.
Carter said thermal imaging is “one of many tools that an organisation should think about” to protect staff, employees and customers.
Social distancing rules, the use of gloves, masks, contactless payment options and general respiratory etiquette are all guidelines that must be taken into consideration when implementing such screening technologies, he added.
Carter said he was unaware of any “central government mandate” to introduce thermal-imaging cameras across all hospitals.
Each hospital can reach its own conclusions as to whether it should adopt such technologies as businesses await further government guidelines, he said.
John Oxtoby, medical director at UHNM, said: “As the UK continues its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we must ensure people remain safe and well, particularly those who we are inviting back into hospital for important diagnostic tests and appointments.”
Oxtoby said the UHNM was leading the way as the first NHS trust to deploy thermographic technology, “to instill confidence and ensure we are alerted to potential carriers of Covid-19 and other contagious diseases at the earliest opportunity”.