With housing providers and local authorities’ budgets across the UK being reduced, Steve Smith from Welbeing discusses whether this could be an opportunity to create a new model for community and telecare services that are person-centred and cost-effective.
I’ve worked in the community alarm/telehealthcare sector for more than 30 years, but the last five years have been some of the most challenging and exciting I’ve experienced. We’re seeing unprecedented change in the way housing providers and local authorities deliver services, with both good and bad results.
The reductions in funding from the government along with the changes to the way Supporting People funds are administered have had a significant impact on housing and social care. Last year, Staffordshire County Council halved its Supporting People budget, affecting thousands of alarm service users. The decision prompted a number of providers to either discontinue telecare or migrate to other services altogether.
How can we encourage more providers and service users to invest in a technology that is proven to improve independence and reduce hospital admissions? I believe the answer lies in a consolidated approach, with all parties working together to create unified and person-centred health and social care provision.
The impact of the government’s austerity measures is also forcing other changes to the way we provide housing and social care. Traditionally in the UK, community alarms have been seen as an adaptation to the property, with the same system remaining in place no matter what the needs are of the changing occupiers. In Europe, the model is based around people, not buildings, with a package of care and technology tailored to their needs which will flex as their needs change, and move with them. The advantages to this model are that the care is based around individual needs and not provided on a ‘one size fits all’ basis and tied to the property.
We’re seeing a shift towards this approach in the UK, as funding moves from properties to people, and from housing to social care. This enables the delivery of tailored care according to assessed need, which in turn generates efficiencies. Many housing providers are choosing to decommission hard-wired warden call systems and reduce the number of scheme managers, offering dispersed community alarm units and monitoring instead. We’re also seeing local authorities increasingly turn to telecare as a way to safeguard people, manage risk and enable independence in a cost-effective, personalised way.
I believe we will continue to see the consolidation of monitoring centres in the UK for some time to come; the cost of providing 24-hour monitoring and associated services is simply not sustainable below a critical mass of connections. As funding is withdrawn and these centres are no longer financially viable, we will see a move to larger regional, and even national, centres.
The biggest barrier to the uptake of telecare is a lack of public awareness; if you can overcome this, people may be willing to pay a small amount for something that could change or even save their lives.
For example, when Aspire Housing had its funding cut, it decided to move away from the provision of telecare services. Despite having previously taken the decision to close its own control centre, it still wanted to deliver telecare services but in a different way. As much of the funding used to pay for the service no longer existed, Aspire needed to provide a bridging service with Welbeing to allow service users time to consider whether they wished to have the service decommissioned or pay for the service out of their own funds.
By clearly communicating the benefits of community alarms and telecare to users and their families, an encouraging 60-70 per cent of people chose to continue with the service, proving its value. The benefit of this arrangement is that residents are safeguarded while the burden on the social care purse is reduced.
In the light of the current A&E crisis, I think it is vital that housing providers and local authorities do everything they can to ensure ‘bed blocking’ is kept to a minimum. Telecare is essential in providing hospital discharge teams with the confidence that a vulnerable patient can be discharged safely and while there are challenges associated with the current climate, it also presents a raft of opportunities.
Steve Smith is the CEO of Welbeing.