A friendly eye

Scottish councils are increasingly looking at using technology to meet the needs of clients living in isolated communities. But is it right for everyone? Simon Creasey

Scotland’s population is ageing rapidly. Figures suggest that by 2021 the total number of people over pensionable age will rise by 8 per cent to just under one million. And in a country that has a large number of isolated rural communities,this will inevitably place further pressure on care services.

This was one of the main factors behind the Scottish executive’s decision to invest £8m in new telecare technology. The funding, announced in August, will be shared out among Scotland’s 32 councils who will be expected to provide a range of technology-based support services including fall sensors, panic buttons and flood detectors in the homes of older and vulnerable people. The aim is to allow these people – especially those in remote areas – to live more independently for longer. But while in theory the telecare scheme appears to be a commonsense solution to a logistically complex problem, Help the Aged Scotland is worried that a national roll-out of these remotely monitored gadgets will deprive those who depend on regular physical contact with their carers.

Tara Anderson, programme manager for Help the Aged’s Speaking Up for Our Age scheme, in Scotland, says: “We heard that district nurses were jumping for joy when they were told the news about these monitors but why were they so pleased? Does the introduction of telecare systems mean that people will be released from hospital early because they have these monitors at home and does it also mean that district nurses will not have to attend when these people are released? That’s the only implication I can read into the fact they were so delighted.”

The blueprint for telecare provision in Scotland will take account of the experience of West Lothian Council, which started a pilot in 1999. Today, almost 2,800 houses have a telecare package but Grahame Blair, the council’s head of social policy, estimates that more than 4,000 people in West Lothian benefit from the scheme as many of the installations are in double occupancy households.

So far advanced is its scheme that West Lothian is hosting a conference next month on the subject.

The council’s scheme isn’t just employed to help older people – it’s also been rolled out in domestic violence cases, to  people with learning difficulties and to the disabled – with the council’s youngest user being just seven-years-old and the eldest being over one hundred.

As for whether or not telecare replaces human intervention, Blair retorts: “We try and see telecare as a way of complementing the personal services that we currently deliver and stretching them out as far as we can.”

This is exactly what council’s like Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) hope to do when they fully adopt the scheme. The region, which has its fair share of rural communities, has an above average population of people aged over 65 due to it’s being a popular retirement destination.

Jean Muir, strategic planning and commissioning manager at D&G Council accepts that there will come a time when there are not enough carers to meet the needs of a rising number of clients.

He says: “Supplementing paid carer visits by using telecare may be the only way of helping people remain in their own homes. Families worry about their relative being at risk and this is often the reason for them giving up caring for them, whether they live with their family or live alone. Telecare can help to keep people safer and reassure their families, thus supporting them in their caring role for longer.”

West Lothian is already investigating replacing its existing telecare hardware. Muir adds: “We want to develop a set top box arrangement which will provide health monitoring services but also include controls for heating and home appliances with the possibility of pumping digital entertainment into people’s homes.”

So it won’t be a case of Big Brother is watching you but more Big Brother is looking after you.


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