Taking up Assistive Technologies

The Guardian printed an article earlier in the week about a poor take up nationally of telecare. Telecare (assistive technology)  is the system of various automatic alerts that are often used in local authorities for the care of older people.

The most familiar might be an ‘remote alarm call’ system – perhaps a pendant worn around the neck or wrist with a big red button to be pressed in case of a fall. At which point (at least with the systems I’ve worked with) a disembodied voice echoes from a small box-like device asking if any assistance is required. If there is no response or a call for help (because sometimes the button is pressed accidently or sat upon by visiting social workers.. yes, I’ve done that more than once) people will attend (they have keys) and respond appropriately.

image red at Flickr

But the world of ‘Telecare’ has expanded exponentially – or at least, I thought it had.

We have fall monitors which can test the pressure on ‘usual’ chairs or beds and alert the appropriate team if there isn’t anyone on that particular chair/bed for a programmed period of time (and it can be set so that the bed monitor is only active between certain hours and the same with the chair monitors).

We have gas detection monitors, C02 monitors, smoke detectors and heat monitors and flood detectors which all report back to a central office in case the person in question is not able to alert anyone.

There are, as I have actually been directly involved in recently, have ‘door monitors’ that can detect if someone ‘wanders’ out of a front door at night.

And probably lots of other types of equipment that I haven’t even begun to explore.

I was surprised at the poor take up because as the article notes, a lot of money has been thrown at the project – it’s certainly been very evident in our local authority. Perhaps the poor take up is related to seeing it as a ‘replacement’ service for home care workers. I’ve never considered that but more of an additional service – a kind of safety net.

Again, in my own Borough, the funding provided by central government has been used to provide the service as free on demand so we are able to offer these services to users at no current cost (although we have to explain that this may change in the future as the funding runs out). Perhaps that is why we have been more successful in rolling out the services than some.

And I have not personally known anyone considering reducing face-to-face care as a result of Telecare being implemented. Sometimes it is a more of a case of peace of mind for the carer who might not live in the same house, as much as needed for the user. I have certainly used that line as persuading factor, you know, ‘get the gas detector for your daughter’s sake, not because you wouldn’t know exactly what to do if you smelt gas during the night’.

So why the low take up, the Guardian presents a concerning but unsurprising conclusion.

In 2006, the government made £80m available in grants for English councils to pilot telecare and other forms of assistive technology…But there is uncertainty about how much of the £80m, which was not ring-fenced, was spent on telecare, as opposed to other uses

Of course the main worry has been that these new technologies will lead to a decrease in care visits but I haven’t seen it used in that way yet, and I hope it never will after all, the needs that are met are very different.

I am actually rather glad that I work in one of the authorities that seems to want to take this forward though as I’ve seen a lot of direct benefits  – in fact, someone I work with currently managed to leave the gas on and this was alerted through exactly this system. It might have been a lot longer if there had been no electronic trigger.

I can’t see it being anything other than an integral part of the packages that are delivered increasingly in the future. Technology does not have to be our enemy and it does not have to replace people.

2 thoughts on “Taking up Assistive Technologies

  1. I think there are many reasons why many local authorities have not implemented a long term Telecare strategy, not ring fencing the money did not help. Lack of understanding of how the technology can be integrated into the the care package is another reason, but perhaps the lack of a Telecare champion within local authorities and a dedicated team responsible for developing a longer term strategy is a crucial factor. I have found so many LAs doing the actual minimum with many of the members responsible for developing Telecare working on short term contracts or secondments.
    Much of the PTG money has been wasted on purchasing equipment that is not being used but sitting on shelves just so that the money is spent rather than having any real plan or direction. Often third party contractors are used for assessment/installation which is expensive and not sustainable, why do they not have their own team? In a research project I undertook aimed at examining the factors that OTs consider when assessing for and prescribing Assistive Technology, OTs from both Health and Social Services were making few referrals for Telecare despite government initiatives to use this technology to support living within the home. Why is this so? The main answers were lack of knowledge and training on what Telecare is and how it can make a contribution to overal care packages. There was a concern that it was trying to replace some elements of personal care, again mainly because of lack of training and awareness, although some management were hoping this to be the case. In my experience OTs, Social workers and other frontline care staff are positive once they have received some awareness of the true potential Telecare can offer, they are often hungry for knowledge as bourne out by the attendance at training courses I have arranged.
    Next time the government provides funding for particular initiatives they need to ring fence it so that it can be used for the purpose intended and not to support other areas of theit strained budgets. The original PTG money was to be used for two years, then it was extended for a roll over year so that LAs could finally spend it or lose it.
    Telecare and other electronic assistive technology has huge potential but LAs need to commit to a long term strategy.

  2. I do, for the most part, agree. We have a Telecare team who come out and assess and have been extraordinarily positive in the role it can and does play and I think that has definitely rubbed off for the most part.
    I have found it very helpful to people personally.

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