Robot carers are an insult to our most vulnerable | Letters


Your report on the use of robots in care homes follows a familiar and dispiriting pattern (Robots to be used in UK care homes to help reduce loneliness, 7 September). Interventions of all kinds, from art groups to yoga, have been shown to improve residents’ mood and mental state, at least temporarily. Most of these interventions clearly have their own intrinsic value, but what most studies fail to account for is the grim and barren social environment that residents too commonly inhabit. Field work has shown that loneliness, isolation and a lack of human interaction is all too common within care homes. These places are generally understaffed and this is the result of chronic underfunding of the care sector. It certainly is not helped by excessive profit seeking by larger care home groups.

In such a desolate environment, it is not surprising that a bit of music, dance, reminiscence and now a robot companion helps people feel a little better. The use of robots to simulate human interaction is particularly dangerous and unwelcome in this context as it is clearly open to abuse. It is not difficult to see that low staffing levels and the consequent minimal staff-to-resident human interaction could be glossed over by the provision of non-human “companions”.

What people in care homes need is plentiful contact with carers, nurses and therapists. Only when this level of adequate social interaction is reached should one consider offering robotic company. It seems to me that wherever plentiful human contact is provided robotic company would very likely be redundant.
Paul Whitby
Market Lavington, Wiltshire

Robert Booth’s piece about the possibility of using robots in care homes to reduce loneliness paints a nightmarish view of how some of the larger providers of residential and dementia care are apparently already thinking of treating their residents. What a terrible and demeaning prospect.

Our care homes may be understaffed and staff may not be able to develop good enough relationships with residents. But the decent and right response must be to invest in improving staffing levels and training. Even to consider using robots in this way could be the start of a very questionable journey that no civilised society should even contemplate.
Brian Waller
(Retired director of social services), Newall with Clifton, North Yorkshire

Talk about life imitating art! I read the front-page piece about robots in care homes with some disbelief, but then I recalled the Frank Langella film Robot & Frank (2012), which towards the end sees the ageing jewellery thief Frank in a care home with robot helpers like the one that had been his domestic help and carer when he was living alone.

Perhaps this will start a trend whereby all staff in the service and retail sectors will be replaced by robots. Come to think of it, there’s a humanoid one in 10 Downing Street already, called Dom-in-ic, but something’s gone wrong with its AI so it’s creating havoc and commands the prime minister to obey its every instruction.
Paul F Faupel
Somersham, Cambridgeshire

My 95-year-old mother suffered from dementia but she was also very wise. One day when I visited her in her care home she said to me: “Love is the most important thing. Without love life isn’t worth living.” This is something robots cannot provide. Carers can, but only if there are enough of them so they have the time in their long and busy shifts.
Gail Henegan
Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire

This content was originally published HERE


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