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Gadgets saving millions of pounds in adult social care

With Britain's adult social care system standing at a crossroads, innovative councils are showing how gadgetry can save hundreds of millions of pounds a year while helping older and vulnerable people remain in the homes they love.

Councils across the country are pioneering new technologies to support Britain's ageing population and major research from one local authority shows telecare and telehealth could save its health system £7.5 million a year. If expanded across England and Wales this would represent savings of £270 million, and extra years of priceless independence and dignity for users.

After several years piloting new technologies, town halls are now rolling out schemes in full and reaping huge savings - from the electronic pill dispenser which saves thousands of pounds a year to the personal satellite locator which reduces day care costs by £250 a week.

The Dilnot Commission is expected to propose wide-ranging funding reforms for adult social care next month. Whatever its outcome, telecare and telehealth will need to be an essential and integral part of any future system.

The latest developments in telehealth and telecare are being discussed at this year's annual LGA' Annual Conference in Birmingham.
Cllr David Rogers, chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said:

"Investing in telecare and telehealth has been proven to reduce the need for hospital admission, GP referral, home help, day care and residential care. This saves taxpayers' money in the long term at a time when the demand for adult care is rising and funding is falling. It also gives older people and those living with long-term conditions priceless years of more independence, helping them remain healthy and happy at the heart of the communities they love.

"Later life should be as fulfilling, healthy and as active as a person wants it to be. New technology helps deliver round-the-clock support to users, allowing them to manage their own health budgets, ensuring timely and preventative care, and peace of mind for them and their loved ones.

"It also makes time with friends and loved ones quality time. Rather than carers having to fret about pills or check every window's locked each time they visit, they can now relax and chat like they used to, knowing numerous mundane tasks have been taken care of.

"Councils have been the trailblazers with telecare and telehealth and the whole of society is now reaping the benefits. But this is only part of the solution. Also essential is funding reform, better public health, leisure and transport schemes, more adaptable housing, new better advice for self-funders and neighbourhood projects. And what will never happen is technology being seen as a replacement for human contact, nothing is more vital to keep older people independent and happy."

Kent County Council's two-year pilot was the largest in Europe and focused on savings related to heart and lung conditions and diabetes. Working alongside health trusts in the county, it found vast savings were made through reduced hospital admissions, accident and emergency, bed days of care, home visits and GP contact. When the reduced costs were expanded across all areas of health, it estimated an annual saving of £7.5 million.

Examples of current telecare systems include:

  • Personal satellite locators where carers can monitor the location of someone with dementia. This allows people who are often fit in body to continue going for much-loved walks without fear of being lost.
  • Location buzzers which go off if you stray too far from your carer.
  • Door monitors to remind you to take keys before leaving the house.
  • Lifestyle monitoring system where carers can monitor a person's activities via the internet and view a chart of their activity in each room.
  • Sensors to detect floods, fire, gas leaks, falls, intruders, property exit and bed/chair occupancy, all connected to relatives or central monitoring centres.
  • Special plugs which stop flooding if taps are left on.
  • Personal injury alarms – both activated by the wearer, or self activating following an accident.
  • Automatic pill dispenser which make tablets available on a timer and prompts users to take them.
  • Simple mobile phones with only seven buttons which have pictures on them. Can be worn on the wrist.

Case studies: 

Staffordshire County Council offers telecare services to more than 1,000 residents. It found £100 pill dispensers coupled with the £20-per-month pharmacy management fees saved £19.50 for every pound spent because of reduced hospital admissions, GP and nurse time, medication efficiency and home care. Its use of personal locators has delayed admission to long-term care and supported increased use of community facilities. They cost £300 each and then £5 a week to monitor, compared to day care costs of £50 a day.

Brighton and Hove City Council provides telecare services to 5,000 users and receives about 500 alarm calls per day.  As well as their standard alarm pendant, the council's Carelink Plus team offers smoke detectors, falls detectors, medication reminders, epilepsy sensors, bed and chair occupancy detectors and door and flood sensors. Some customers, including one who suffered a heart attack while on their own, have written to the service saying it has saved their lives.

Stockton Council's community alarm service, Care Call, provides 24-hour support at the touch of a button, together with the services of mobile officers to more than 6,500 residents. It helps old, vulnerable and disabled people stay safe in their home and is open to anyone of any age who would like to feel safer and more protected. Latest statistics show the control centre averages 96.5 per cent of calls being answered within 30 seconds and 98 per cent within 60 seconds.

North Yorkshire County Council, with its partner organisations, supports more than 13,000 people with telecare. In its first year, it calculates it has saved more than £1 million that would otherwise have been spent on domiciliary or residential care.

Chichester District Council operates a Chichester Careline service which supports vulnerable people through telecare and telehealth 24-hours-a-day, 365 days a year. Innovations include bed and chair occupancy sensors, bogus caller buttons, epilepsy sensors, falls, smoke, flood, gas and movement detectors, property exit sensors, and GPS locating devices, which allow users to push a button if they're concerned and speak to an operator. It is also pioneering the UK's smallest GPS device, about two-inch square, which has been specially designed for people with dementia and allows carers to track them down using their mobile phone, internet or Careline.

One project piloted by Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands involved a partnership between councils, PCTs, the NHS and pharmacies to provide automated pill dispensers to people who have difficulty remembering their medication. The potential return on investment is £15 for every £1 spent.


Telehealth is the term given to managing a person's health between appointments using the likes of email, video calls and remote monitors and scanners. Telecare is the term given to technology which helps older and physically less able people remain in their own home.

The LGA's annual conference – Localism Works – takes place at the ICC in Birmingham from Tuesday 28 June to Thursday 30. Visit www.local.gov.uk/annual-conference-2011 or follow us on Twitter @LGconf11

To see the full report from Kent County Council's pilot scheme, visit -http://www.kent.gov.uk/adult_social_services/social_services_professionals/partnerships_and_projects/whole_system_demonstrator.aspx 

By 2026, the number of over 65s will have risen from 8 million to 12.5 million, the number of 85-year-olds will have doubled to 2 million, and the number of over 100s quadrupled to 40,000.

Life expectancy is extending, but quality of later life is declining with people living longer with debilitating conditions like dementia, arthritis and the effects of stroke.

Councils in England spent £14.4 billion on adult social care in 2008/09. This could rise to £20 billion by 2015. 

People can buy telecare products privately, through personal budgets or councils may supply them based on eligibility criteria.

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