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The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust is using satellites to track psychiatric patients with criminal convictions.

The launch follows a successful 12 month pilot project in which 35 mentally ill patients at River House, a medium security psychiatric unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, took part.

The unit now has 60 devices and plans to use the system on more patients over the coming months.

"We started using the system last year and increased the service in March, but we needed to make sure that everything had bedded in before announcing its use," a spokesperson for the Trust told SmartHealthcare.com.

The patients have been detained after committing a range of offences including violent crimes, arson and anti-social behaviour. They are being fitted with ankle tags linked by satellite to a control room, which alerts the hospital when a patient goes to an area they're excluded from, or is away for too long.

The system can measure whether the tracking device, and therefore the patient, is moving and at what speed. In addition, the ankle tag vibrates to remind a patient when they are nearing the end of their allotted time away from hospital.

The pilot showed that the system led to fewer leave related problems, as the trust can identify the patient's whereabouts and re-establish contact quickly. It also enabled the trust to increase the leave given to River House patients.

"Graduated leave, with increasing degrees of freedom as patients recover, is an important therapeutic process that aids re-skilling and social reintegration of people who have been in hospital, often for long periods of time," said the spokesperson. "Technology is an added assurance to a rigorous clinical and risk assessment process."

The system was developed by Buddi and each device, including straps, costs £374, plus £50 per month per device for monitoring. The spokesperson added: "We think the system will cut the costs of searching for patients who have absconded."

One of the patients who used the device while at River House said that it had helped to keep him "more safe". He now lives in a hostel after 13 years in secure hospitals following a conviction for arson.

"If I was to have an accident of any kind it would be easier to pick me up," said the patient, although he added that the tracker was uncomfortable when worn for long periods, and that "Sometimes it makes you feel a bit childish... almost labeled".

This article was originally published at Kable.

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