Beyond the Headlines

Lessons from London

Posted: May 9, 2012 7:33 AM ET Last Updated: May 9, 2012 7:33 AM ET

If Amy Ogilvie had been wearing a GPS tracking bracelet while out on a day pass, officials would probably have been able to find her Friday night, shortly after she failed to return to the East Coast Forensic Hospital. Instead, almost 72 hours later, health officials were forced to ask the public's help in finding a woman they described as potentially dangerous to herself and the public.


And if Andre Denny had been wearing a GPS bracelet when he failed to return following a one-hour pass, there's a good chance he would have been picked up quickly. Instead he faces charges of brutally murdering Raymond Taavel.


When I wrote about this issue last week, both Capital District Health and Health minister Maureen MacDonald said they weren't in favour of using GPS technology to track patients committed to the forensic hospital.


Their rationale: these are patients, not prisoners, and forcing them to wear GPS bracelets would send the wrong message to both patients and the public.


Capital Health also said it knew of no institution in Canada that uses the technology.


While it may not be used here, GPS monitoring is being used in London, England.


They started using it there following a case that is eerily similar to the horrible incident that claimed Raymond Taavel's life.


In 2009, a 73 year-old man was murdered in his home by a patient in a secure mental health facility who escaped while getting treatment in an acute care hospital. 


The trust that runs the facility reacted by piloting a GPS tracking system. Any patient who left the secure facility, for any reason, would have to wear a monitoring bracelet.


According to a spokesperson for the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the program has been a great success.


In an email Lorcan O'Neill,  writes:


       "We have deployed around 100 Buddi tracker devices for use with

         patients having leave or being transferred from our forensic    

         secure units. Breaches of leave - patients absconding while   

         while under escort, or failing to return from pre-arranged leave on 

         time have greatly reduced."


O'Neill says the GPS devices allows them to track patients whenever they are outside the facility:


      "The "Buddi" tracker device enables the location identity and tracking

       of anyone wearing them to within metres. Monitoring is available 24/7

       and all year round. High risk patients may be monitored in real time. 

       The system records and time logs movements so it is possible to track

       someone's journey and timescale, at any point in their leave. The

       devices are tamper proof and alert the monitoring system of any

       attempt at removal."


As for concerns of how this might impact patients, O'Neill writes:


      "It has also been beneficial to the patients in that the device vibrates

       and warns them when they are about to exceed their leave, thereby

       reducing breaches and consequently the revoking of leave. If they do

       breach leave, they can be quickly located and recovered."


On Tuesday, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald, who in the past has emphatically opposed GPS monitoring, said she wants to wait for the results of the review ordered after Raymond Taavel was killed, before making a final decision on bringing similar technology to Nova Scotia.


It is a difficult issue.


The goal is, and should be, reintegrating these patients back into their communities. Day and short-term passes are an integral part of their treatment plan.


The question is this:  would GPS monitoring be a valuable tool to help health professionals balance the needs of their patients with the need to protect the public.


In South London, the answer is yes.


Update Thursday 10:45am: Information Morning interviewed Lorcan O'Neill this morning. Listen to the full interview here:

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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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