The Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London recently published the findings of its UTOPIA (Using Telecare for Older People in Adult social care) project. Lawrence Christensen, Marketing Director, explores how the conclusions of the report resonate with Tunstall’s experience of more than 60 years of using technology to help older people to remain independent.

The UTOPIA project involved a survey of all 152 English local authorities with social care responsibilities about their use of telecare. With a response rate of 75%, it can be assumed that the results provide an accurate picture of the state of telecare services in England today. For me, the overriding theme was one of missed opportunities; telecare could deliver so much more if it was properly embedded into service delivery across the health, housing and social care landscape.

However, the report also contained lots of positive news; despite adult social care spending cuts over recent years, local authorities have not scaled back their spending on telecare. This clearly indicates the value placed on telecare services, and this is reinforced by the belief of a quarter of respondents that telecare saved money. The fact that many councils found it difficult to evidence these savings does not surprise me for several reasons:

  • Most local authorities simply don’t have the resources to invest in formal evaluation of services
  • Telecare is seen as a proven technology, and has been demonstrating its value for decades
  • From my conversations with professionals, there is a high level of intuitive belief that telecare works – and they’ve seen this for themselves in practice on many occasions

This is perhaps also why formal assessment doesn’t always take place before telecare is installed; professional stakeholders are well aware of the ability of the systems to manage risk, 24 hours a day. And it’s not unusual for a basic system to be installed to aid timely hospital discharge, which is then followed up by formal assessment to fine tune the care package to meet individual need. Tunstall has helped many customers refine their assessment processes; contrary to the report’s assertion that training from suppliers focused on equipment features, we have developed a range of courses and tools which are based on person-centred procedures and take a holistic, scenario-based approach.

I agree with the findings of the report that unfortunately awareness of the benefits of telecare remains limited and often siloed into specialist teams. We’ve seen in our work with Lancashire County Council, for example, the difference it makes to the success of telecare services when they are part of a county-wide, integrated approach across health, housing and social care. Evaluation of the service is ongoing, but early indications show that the new model of delivery is achieving the Council’s aims of reducing or delaying the need for health and care services; improving people’s outcomes; and supporting demand management across the population.

The importance of this coordinated, large-scale approach is more vital than ever before, in the light of BT’s recent announcement that it will begin its upgrade of phone services from analogue to digital (IP) by the end of the year and complete it by 2025. Providers now have a unique opportunity to not only ensure current services can continue to be delivered, but to begin to lay the foundation for a future where digital technology will be integral to the effective care of older people.

The UK has yet to combine technology with new approaches in health and social care, such as those we’ve see in Tunstall Spain. Barcelona’s teleassistance service combines telecare, social care and response services with proactive outbound calling to help people remain independent and part of their community for as long as possible and delay or avoid the need for more complex intervention. They are also using technology to help older people improve their health and wellbeing by increasing their interaction with others, with the Vincles project enabling 500 people over 65 with unwanted feelings of loneliness to use apps on digital tablets to expand their social networks.

Combatting social isolation is just one of the areas where the UK has yet to fully embrace the power of technology to improve the quality of life and outcomes for people as they age. And as the Internet of Things continues to permeate homes across the country, with Amazon Echo and Hive for example now commonplace, connected home technology is no longer an abstract concept.

The technology is already available to predict events before they occur, as well as reacting to them and minimising consequences if they do. We can monitor health remotely, ensure people are eating and drinking, and are safe and warm at home. Technology can also enable families to take a more active role in caregiving, such as via apps to monitor wellbeing and interact with loved ones, improving care and reducing the pressure on statutory services.

The barriers are cultural, not technological and given the cost-effectiveness of telecare, should not be financial. We have an unparalleled opportunity to think big, to not do what we’ve always done and to make the most of technology to connect people and services as never before.

The digital future is here; we just need to realise its potential.

You can read the full UTOPIA report here.