Police criticised for using GPS locator to track dementia patients

TAGGED Gill Stoneham with her husband Bernard and their dog Ollie. Picture: Peter Langdown
TAGGED Gill Stoneham with her husband Bernard and their dog Ollie. Picture: Peter Langdown

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POLICE have defended their decision to buy GPS locators to help track dementia patients who regularly go missing.

Sussex Police bought six battery-powered locators as part of a bid to save money and time.

But the move has been criticised by the National Pensioners’ Convention, which said that it could put elderly people on a par with offenders being tracked.

However, families, including Bernard and Gill Stoneham, have welcomed the device.

The GPS locator, called Mindme, is being monitored by Chichester Careline, which is run by Chichester District Council and has a 24-hour call centre.

The scheme is being pioneered in Chichester, but anyone across the region can sign up to the initiative.

The tracking device can be worn around patients’ necks, clipped to belts and attached to house keys.

If a person becomes lost or disorientated, they can be located through a dedicated website by their family, or Chichester Careline.

The device sends details of its location to the website every four minutes.

Sergeant Suzie Mitchell, from Chichester Neighbourhood Response Team, said: ‘The scheme is only costing Sussex Police a few hundred pounds but comparing this to police time, resources, potential risk to the missing person let alone the anxiety and worry for their family, it is in my opinion, a few hundred pounds really well spent.’

Bernard and Gill, from Fishbourne, are among those already benefitting from the device.

Gill, 73, has dementia and Bernard realised something needed to be done when a neighbour found her trying to cross the busy A27 roundabout.

The device was put to good use when Gill went for a walk one day and Bernard discovered she had got lost.

He said: ‘I decided to check the footpath from the church to the main road, and as I did, I passed the entrance to a field where cattle had recently been. The entrance was very muddy and full of water. In the entrance I suddenly saw Gill, lying on the ground stuck in the mud. She was very distressed and had been physically sick.

‘Without the locator I wouldn’t have known where to look for her.’

The device costs £27.50 per month. Chichester Careline can be contacted on (01243) 778688.