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It is time to bring telecare into the mainstream

Steve Carefull

The guardian

30 June 2014


Along with all adult social care departments, Hampshire county council faces an unprecedented double-bind: substantial cuts in its budget at a time when growing numbers of older people need publicly funded social care.

Two years ago, looking for a solution that would reduce costs without putting the users of its services at risk, Hampshire's management team recognised that it was not taking full advantage of assistive technology. AT, also known as telecare, has been around for years but Hampshire's social workers were not deploying it frequently to their vulnerable adult service users. Where it was used, there was no feedback system to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The council decided to make telecare more mainstream and promote it as a safe and viable alternative to home visits when reduced personal care is required. It also focused on how telecare could help enable people to stay in their own homes and out of costly residential institutions for as long as possible.

Yet making such a substantial change in care provision is not simple. The success of a telecare service has little to do with the supply and operation of the equipment itself; rather, it is driven by how it changes staff behaviour. This requires a good understanding of the opportunities and benefits telecare has to offer, as well as confidence in its safety and quality. Staff must understand the options available so they can identify the right candidates for service.

Success also hinges on being able to show evidence of the new system's benefits. If good results can be proven, it encourages social workers to refer more clients to the service, further increasing its impact.

In Hampshire, the local market for providing telecare was fragmented and weak and the council was concerned that managing several separate suppliers – each providing one small part of the end-to-end process – would be complex and time-consuming. The council overcame this challenge by focusing on demonstrating the value of the service. This involved extensive behaviour change within the council as well as careful management of the supply chain.

The council partnered with the company I work for, which created a consortium of suppliers and designed and implemented a programme of change. Seven hundred social workers were trained to identify good candidates for telecare and a new online referral process was developed. The programme saw a tenfold increase in telecare referrals in eight months. Vulnerable adults in the county are benefitting from 24/7 cover if they have a fall or other incident while, over that same eight-month period, a benefits tracking system recorded more than £500,000 in net savings – meaning the new telecare service is effectively costing the council nothing.

Steve Carefull is a healthcare expert at PA Consulting Group

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