Psychiatric patients in a major Dublin hospital were being spied on in their bedrooms without their consent, according to the inspector of Mental Health Services.
The Irish Patients' Association has demanded an immediate investigation after it emerged that CCTV was placed in bedrooms without the patients' knowledge.
Patients in a high-dependency unit (HDU) in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, were being watched through CCTV cameras, although they had not been told about it.
The inspector described the practice as "unacceptable" and an "infringement of their right to privacy and dignity".
He said the CCTV cameras had been installed "without adequate risk assessment and care planning for the residents".
After the inspection by Mental Health Services, it was reported that "the CCTV in bedrooms had been disconnected".
In a statement the HSE said CCTV was installed when the hospital was built.
"The CCTV was installed in the HDU to assist in ensuring the safety of patients," said a spokesperson.
It noted that all CCTV is now disconnected except in seclusion rooms. "CCTV is only ever used in the seclusion room of the HDU and never in the bedrooms. Whenever a patient is in seclusion, the patient is told the CCTV is in use.
"The nursing staff in the HDU have access to the CCTV cameras and the information is not stored.
"The decision to install CCTV was made by the Mental Health Service Management at that time and the management team also made the decision only to use CCTV in the seclusion room in the HDU," the HSE said.
Stephen McMahon of the Patients' Association said: "It's a serious issue. CCTV should never be installed in the absence of a full ethical framework.
"If it is something that is being done for patient safety or staff safety, it should adhere strictly to ethical guidelines laid down by data protection and the ombudsman.
"Without such guidelines you can have 'function creep' where cameras are installed in the car-park, then in the corridors and before you know it in patients' bedrooms and the toilet."
The whole issue, he added, should be investigated by both the Data Protection Commissioner and the Information Ombudsman.
The report, which revealed the CCTV was one of the third batch of 2013 inspection reports that are being released at intervals throughout the year.
This particular batch looked at six approved centres – Connolly Hospital, University College Hospital Galway, the Central Mental Hospital, St James's Hospital in Dublin, Kerry General Hospital and Carraig Mor Centre in Cork.
While the issue of CCTV surveillance only arose at Connolly Hospital, it was also found that the centre overall "had made significant progress in introducing an excellent individual care plan template" since the last inspection.
It did, however, require urgent maintenance and painting and "adequate seating areas and chairs still had not been provided" despite a previous recommendation.
At St James's "medicine was not prescribed in accordance with Medical Council guidelines".
The Central Mental Hospital had vacant psychology and occupational therapy posts.
In the Cork unit "there was no provision for privacy in the bathrooms or lavatories in the male areas of the ward".
In Galway, the night inspection had no difficulties.
In Kerry, one resident was not given enough dignity in relation to clothing while in seclusion and was at risk of injury from the furnishings in the room.