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The Case of Thomas Middelhoff : How German Prisons Are Bringing To Light The Need For Innovation In Secure Room Monitoring.



Last November, Thomas Middelhoff- the former manager of German department store chain Karstadt and media giant Bertelsmann – was jailed for tax fraud and embezzlement.


Placed on suicide watch, he was checked on every quarter of an hour for a period of four weeks at the end of last year resulting in sleep deprivation so severe, he is now suing Essen prison.


The repeated checks, during which Middelhoff's light was switched on by staff monitoring his wellbeing every fifteen minutes, resulted in sleep deprivation which, his attorneys claim, has resulted in serious and ongoing medical problems.


Middelhoff's case only serves to highlight the serious shortcomings in current patient-monitoring techniques especially with regard to patients at high risk of suicide. As we reported in our last blog, prison suicides are currently at a seven-year high, and one of the biggest contributing factors to the troubling surge in numbers is the inability of prison employees to provide adequate monitoring of those most at risk. Staff shortages are worsening as the number of adult male offenders rises, and regular monitoring is a time intensive and expensive exercise for which the requisite manpower is often simply unavailable. The Middelhoff case demonstrates, moreover, that such frequent observations can actually be detrimental to health, and in the case of vulnerable patients in hospitals, an impediment to their recovery.


It's the resolution of these increasingly critical issues that's at the heart of our own revolutionary Oxecam technology. Already trialled in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unity, the Oxecam was recently awarded funding from Innovate UK for further trials with Cancer Surgery Patients at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. The project will seek to establish how camera-based patient monitoring technology can improve upon the current system of periodic staff checks, and help to alleviate its serious and inherent issues.


Using contactless, camera-based monitoring technology, the Oxecam reduces disturbance to subjects, enabling a far better provision of care and relieving the pressure on healthcare providers. It also allows for continuous surveillance which will detect changes in vital signs and alert staff to critical cases, rather than relying on periodic checks which often come tragically too late. This in itself helps avoid the huge expense that comes with suicide prevention measures. Quite aside from the immeasurable personal cost to victims and their families, the cost of an individual prison death is not insignificant – inquests and investigations, staff resources and duty of care to the deceased can typically cost   £1.2million.


Thomas Middelhoff could, if successful, end up costing Essen prison an even greater sum. His case exposes a desperate need for reform in secure room monitoring techniques a reform we hope to expedite as we continue making exciting strides forward with our Oxecam technology.