A police force plans to fit dementia patients with GPS tracking devices in a bid to reduce the number of costly call-outs to search for patients who regularly go missing.
Campaigners have described the scheme as “inhumane” while East Sussex council’s adult services department will launch an investigation into the tracking proposals from Sussex Police.
The tracking device can be worn around patients’ necks, clipped to belts and attached to house keys and features a button which would allow its wearer to speak to a 24-hour call centre.
Sussex Police have estimated that one-in-four of more than 300 missing persons inquiries it launched in 2011 involved a dementia patient.
It has now reportedly purchased 15 of the devices which it believes could reduce the number of missing persons searches which often involve a large amount of police manpower, and occasionally a helicopter.
“The GPS will be very cost-effective to the police,” said Chief Inspector Tanya Jones.
While local authorities frequently issue tracking devices to dementia patients, Sussex Police is the first force to do so.
Chief Inspector Jones added: “It will reduce anxiety for the family and really reduce the police time spent on this issue.”
Current estimates place the number of dementia sufferers in Britain at 800,000 with that total due to rise to more than a million in eight years.
“It is heart-breaking to see the torment that families are put through and to see the impact it has on the person with dementia when they are found,” Sussex Police Sergeant Suzie Mitchell told The Daily Telegraph. “We are really excited about our involvement in this project and the difference this could make to local people.”
An East Sussex Conservative councillor has called the scheme into question, claiming some patients may not wished to be tracked. Councillor Bill Bentley warned it could see a technological solution imposed on people in a way “that they may or may not wish to have happened”.
Neil Duncan-Jordan, the national officer of the National Pensioners’ Convention, said the practice “smacks of criminality” adding that the GPS devices put patients “on a par with common offenders or people with Asbos”.
He said: “It just feels so wrong. Most people would be flabbergasted that anybody would be considering it.”