Plans to extend the use of home monitoring technology for Northamptonshire’s adults in care will help prevent hundreds of hospital visits - a council chief claims - though opponents of “telecare” fear the new technology is a savings driver.
An investigation by Johnston Press titles has found all 44 Sustainability Transformation Plans (STP), produced by regional NHS bodies, plan to meet strict five-year savings targets by increasing the use of new digital technologies to deliver health and social care services.
Here in Northamptonshire, the county council is planning to put more Canary home monitoring systems in the houses of the long-term ill and elderly over the next few years.
The technology allows care agencies and families to effectively monitor patients in their own homes via a computer “dashboard,” which can send out alerts of the patient falls or does something out of the ordinary.
But Anna Earnshaw, the managing director of the council run Northamptonshire Adult Social Services, dismissed suggestions the move is just about helping the cash-strapped council meet difficult savings targets.
“This is not going to replace care packages, it’s to stop them escalating quickly,” she said.
“When someone reaches a crisis point and they end up in hospital. They very quickly go down a path of more care and more cost.
“This is about us saying how we can do things better without just ending up with the traditional packages.”
Mrs Earnshaw said people on high needs, who receive council-funded care, will still receive face-to-face interaction from a carer and says telecare packages can only help to increase a cared for person’s safety.
But there are general concerns that new technology, like Canary, could become a way of reducing people’s support packages when they are re-assessed.
It is estimated every pound spent on home monitoring technology could save £12 later down the line and the county council is set to make £25 million worth of cuts to adult social services in the 2017/18 year.
Carlo Salvatore, who is 61, and a member of the Disabled People Against Cuts organisation is one of thousands across the country who manages his own personal care budget.
It means he effectively has to run his home in Northampton like a “small business,” hiring agency carers to cover overnight visits, to cook meals and to assist him in getting out of bed in the morning.
But Mr Salvatore, who has a basic call-out alarm fitted at his home because of a genetic condition that has left him wheelchair bound, believes the increase in home monitoring equipment cannot gradually be used to replace face-to-face care.
He said: “It’s important to remember telecare is all very well, but it’s geared towards a single context, which is safety.
“I’m a firm believer that telecare cannot get you out of bed in the morning.
“It can’t help you with key things around your life, around your needs, if you need help accessing the toilet.
“The danger is that a disabled person, even with these provisions can be a prisoner in their own home.”
Only a tiny proportion of Northamptonshire’s 6,000 funded adults in social care have the Canary system fitted at home and Mrs Earnshaw says it will not be appropriate for a lot of people.
Director of innovation at national charity Carers UK, Madeleine Starr MBE, believes the new innovations in home “telecare” will be key to reducing the workload of carers.
The UK, she says, is languishing behind other developed nations, such as Japan, which is already rolling out “carebots” that can detect falls , assist mobility and provide company.