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Effectiveness of NHS funding boost depends on social care priority

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Article published in The Herald

THE UK Government’s £20billion boost for NHS brings with it £2bn for Scotland’s health service. But will the funding be enough to meet the challenges created by Scotland’s rapidly ageing population?

Maybe, if we ensure the right approach is taken.

A recent commentator in this paper, the much-admired disability campaigner Dr Jim Elder-Woodward, highlighted concerns about how plans to reshape home care services to meet constrained budgets were affecting users.

On the subject of overnight sleepovers, he said that it would be “impossible” for telecare services to meet the unique needs of people reliant on care support in the home. And we agree that, as current telecare provision stands, it will be challenging to replace carers sleeping over with merely an analogue telecare-enabled hub.

But what is actually happening in Scotland is that those for whom overnight support is the right measure will continue to receive this.

As specialists in the design and delivery of digital telecare in Scotland, we believe there is also great potential in the deployment of technologies alongside traditional sleepover support and this has the potential to increase home care choices rather than deny them.

We believe that technology-enabled care will offer a win-win – improved outcomes for patients as well as cost-effective solutions for care services that face being squeezed by austerity on one side and unprecedented demand from the ageing population on the other.

As fears rise that the funding in England for social care will be delayed and require a rise in taxation, the Scottish Government is arguably further along in integrating primary and social care. It aims to ensure the best care possible while also ensuring it is affordable.

Efforts to deliver a health and social care system fit for the future are being spearheaded by organisations such as Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) and Falkirk Council, each supporting “radical” change in the redesign of health and social care pathways. Falkirk is implementing a single platform, initially for telecare, that will bring all its outcome-focused systems together for its health and social care users.

But this journey is not going to be easy. HIS admits in its recently published operational plan 2018/19, that issues of sustainability and financial outlook mean “difficult decisions” and “tougher choices about priorities” must be made.

What care users in Scotland can look forward to is a commitment across government and the NHS to support systems in the home that are future-proof as well as offering what most of us want – to live as independently and with as much dignity for as long as we can.

In telecare, the changes are happening now as the UK phone network, which supports all home alarm systems in use across the UK, is starting its switch to digital. Taking full advantage of this shift will enable care commissioners such as local authorities to offer fall and movement sensors, medical dose monitors and many other technology-enabled applications to work in a way that is truly integrated across emergency and care services. It will also deliver dramatic cost savings as people are no longer delayed from being discharged from hospital.

But this will only happen if – as Dr Elder-Woodward pointed out – an increase in budgets can be found to implement integrated care systems both in Scotland and across the UK.

I’m confident that Scotland, which has a joined-up health and care system, has identified the right approach to delivering truly effective digitally-enabled care for its elderly and vulnerable citizens, and £2bn would be a great start to making it happen.

Communicare247, Care Sector Hub and TSA's logos

Call for urgent action on latest state of the NHS Providers report

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Article published in Care Sector Hub.

A new report on the challenges facing the NHS and the provision of community services has revealed the urgent need for healthcare commissioners to invest in cost effective digital telecare services and applications. 

NHS Providers’ State of the provider sector report, entitled ‘Community services: taking centre stage’ confirmed that technology has enabled “multiple interventions” to be carried out in the home or in community settings, which is essential to the integrity of healthcare provision as the population ages. 

However, the report sets out how community services are struggling to meet demand as budgets decline. It further highlights that the majority (three quarters) of community care providers in England are worried that investment will fail to deliver services closer to home for patients in the next five years. 

Tom Morton, CEO of telecare specialist Communicare247, said digital telecare services which enable people to stay in their homes longer as well as save commissioners cash were essential to overcoming the community care crunch facing England.

He said: “We welcome the report from NHS Providers which sets out in stark terms the damage that the lack of adequate support for people in their homes can cause.

“According to the report, a person aged 80 who spends ten days in a hospital bed adds ten years of ageing to their muscles, which makes their ability to live independently that much harder. 

“Demographic trends for the UK population are undeniable. The NHS and community care commissioners must act now to ensure that robust systems of telecare and tele-healthcare that deliver improved patient outcomes are put into use. The report found that 91% of health care trusts expect the gap between funding and demand to widen significantly just in the next year. 

“Not only this, but there is an urgent issue facing telecare service providers as the UK telephone network switches to digital. Existing systems are at risk and need to be modernised to deal with future requirements as soon as possible.

“We urge commissioners to plan and invest now in digital and technology-enabled care services such as 24-7 mobile monitoring, digital pill dispensers and other ‘hospital@home’ support systems. These are available, tested and deliver improved patient outcomes by ensuring people can leave hospital and get the care they need at home.”

Digital box and peripherals

Government commitment to digital paves way for telecare services but time to act is now

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A Scottish Government plan to deliver care at home for our citizens was welcomed by an industry leader who called for urgent action now that a digital strategy has been agreed.

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said the government’s commitment to digital telecare services in Scotland would deliver significant improvements to health and social care, such as a reduction in delayed discharge from hospitals and help to ensure our citizens will be able to remain living independently in their homes for as long as possible.

 But he said the government needs to remain focussed so that 160,000 users of telecare in Scotland continue to be supported by the service which is being rendered obsolete by changes to the UK telephone network.

The ‘Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy’ sets out a Scottish Government pledge to “ensure that social care systems are fit for the future… and support the significant impact of the impending switch over of  the UK’s telephony system to a digital network and its impact on analogue telecare services”.

BT will soon start switching the UK’s analogue telephone network to a fully digital network. Work commencing in August 2018 is expected to be completed by 2025. However other telecom providers have already begun the journey. Scotland’s 32 local authorities and 22 alarm receiving centres will need to be fully adapted to the digital network when the analogue system is shut off.

However, some operators of alarm receiving centres which answer distress signals from telecare users are already experiencing spikes in rates of call failures, which are being blamed on network incompatibility.

Tom Morton, who founded digital telecare company Communicare247 in Scotland over ten years ago, said that local authorities have less time than they think to put in place the technology and finance required to deliver digital telecare services.

He said: “There are 160,000 telecare users in Scotland. The budget pressures for local authorities and care providers mean that they cannot achieve transition within the deadline unless Government acts to give a clear direction.

“Existing budget spend for analogue services, which are effectively rendered obsolete by this announcement, means that most councils will take up to nine years to transition the existing users over to a digital service.  However the Government also has aspirations to increase the deployment of telecare. 

“Meanwhile, between autumn 2018 and 2025, large swathes of the UK will be switched affecting up to 1.7m telecare users. Ofcom has warned of their concerns for the impact to social alarm service users.

“The Telecare Services Association is leading the discussions and attempting to raise awareness, but any change needs to be driven at the local service provider level – the council.

“Given the budget challenges, and the closing deadline, and the increasing risk which is evidenced by reports of alarm call handling failures, it is up to the Government to provide clear guidance for a rapid change to safeguard our citizens.  

“The Digital Health and Care Strategy is an excellent first step as it fully embraces possibilities that digital telecare services will provide for citizens. It paves the way for sensor and monitoring technologies that enable people to live independently at home for longer. It is also offers an effective plan that will reduce pressure on the NHS to discharge people in a timely manner, as home support will be much easier to implement. Scotland now has a clear direction of travel when it comes to digital telecare but there is no room for deviation.”

Scotland Excel Award

Communicare 247 Short listed for Scottish Excel Supplier Excellence Award – Local Excellence

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Communicare247 are delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted for  the 2018 Scottish Excel, Supplier Excellence Awards for Local Excellence!

The award for local excellence recognises the work undertaken by micro-businesses, small companies or third sector organisations to deliver benefits to their customers.

Over the last 12 months, Communicare247 have been working with local authority Falkirk Council in their ambitious journey from analogue to digital.

Together, we have developed a state of the art platform designed to ease the transition between these two technologies while providing an effective level of care. As a proud Scottish SME, we are excited by the leaps we have taken. By simply listening to the wants and needs of our customer, we have been able to produce a unique cloud-based platform which integrates seamlessly with digital telecare services.

Although Communicare247 is small in stature, our ambition knows no limit. We aim to transform the UK telecare sector and improve the lives of millions of men and women.

We look forward to joining Scottish Excel on the 20th of February 2018 at the Radisson Blue, Glasgow and wait
with baited breath to find out the winner.