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Ringing the changes

Ringing the changes

Social care is at a crossroads. An ageing population combined with cuts to funding presents an enormous challenge in delivering integrated health and social care that is fit for purpose.Of course, telecare isn’t new – indeed some 1.7 million people in the UK already use the service – but changes in technology mean that the service has the potential to offer much more than it does already.Currently, most service users simply have an alarm, which they can wear around their neck, linked to a 24-hour service centre.Now however, telecare includes a wide variety of monitors, sensors and alarms – movement sensors, flood sensors, heat sensors, door entry systems, as well as smoke and CO2 detectors. Increasingly, services include regular calls – daily or weekly, say – to check that everything is ok or reminders to take medication.Telecare is allowing people to live on their own for an extended period of time, without requiring round-the-clock care or hospitalisation. So why isn’t it more widespread?The 2012 audit by The Good Governance Institute (GGI) uncovered “significant variations in the number of people using telecare services across the country by local authority area. For example, one reported to have over 12,000 people using telecare services in 2011/12, while another reported having just 75 users. However, there was also a mixed understanding among local authority commissioners on what telecare services are and how they should be incorporated into the council’s social care services.”Martin Byrne, Operations Director for Mears 24/7, believes that more widely used, telecare could offer commissioners solutions to many persistent problems.“Telecare can play a huge part in keeping people in their own homes and delivering cost-effective care. The technology is already there and has the possibility to grow hugely – there are great opportunities for development.“Technology is getting cheaper and more advanced, but much of it hasn’t made it onto the telecare market yet – devices like smartphones have great potential, offering exciting opportunities in the future.“However, the technology isn’t the barrier – the principal difficulty for commissioners is how they redesign their service delivery to integrate telecare.”Mears currently provides telecare services to around 6,000 people. Advances in technology means Mears can now re-connect and transfer customers remotely without needing to send out an engineer to the property.Data from the service is being used to measure success – such as monitoring the number of hospitalisations – spot trends as well as helping to monitor the care needed by an individual. For instance, social workers can get a much better picture of how people with, say, learning difficulties cope with living by themselves if they can see the amount of times alarms are activated.Martin says: “The model for telecare is changing. Clients are looking for more from their contracts and savvy commissioners are driving efficiencies by getting providers to integrate services and manage customer transactions. For example we can now collect payments directly from customers; provide equipment, such as complex aids for daily living (beds, hoists, bathing equipment etc), as well as make minor adaptations to homes, for example installing handrails.“Telecare has the potential to help deliver improved outcomes for service users and also achieve real cost savings for social care commissioners by preventing or delaying the need for intensive care packages.“It doesn’t replace all care, but if integrated with the wider care offer, the benefits are very real – for customers, as well as care providers and commissioners.”

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