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Alexa can help make strides in telecare

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ALEXA, remind me to take my medication today. Alexa, I have fallen and I can’t get up – can you call for help?

The NHS in England has launched a collaboration with Amazon’s virtual assistant in a sign of social care to come. The service to be provided is the most basic – ensuring that when people ask for health advice, the information Alexa offers is verified by the NHS rather than plucked from the random depths of the internet.

This partnership is a first, small step but shows the way to how digital health and telecare will transform social care in the future. A virtual assistant is just one technology that can enable people to live independently in their homes for longer and at a lower cost to the National Health Service – which is already showing signs of being at financial breaking point.

But before we get there, Scotland will have to radically overhaul the infrastructure that underpins the social care system.

Currently Scotland’s 32 local authorities offer a range of adult care services spanning telecare alert buttons to residential care homes. But problems in the system are mounting, not least due to the spiralling costs of meeting the care needs of the UK’s ageing population.

The creaking of the social care system is revealed in statistics like the rising number of people forced to extend their stay in hospital because the facilities that would enable them to return to a much less costly home environment are overburdened and increasingly unavailable.

The backbone of a service that truly connects Alexa – or any other virtual assistant, sensor or video conference facility – to a social care support service will rely on the telecare system undergoing a transformation from analogue to digital. However, cash strapped local authorities across the UK have yet to adopt the infrastructure that will enable these systems to interact with, but also protect, a user’s data. The time is now for investment planners and policy makers to ensure the telecare system is fit for the future.

The enabler of this integration is the alarm receiving centre (ARC) which acts as the brain of the system. It ensures the person calling for help or support gets the right response – whether it is a fall or, depending on use of sensor technology, a change in vital statistics.

The digital ARC is also equipped to deliver video conferencing which will be the cornerstone of remote diagnostics and GP support for many remote areas of the country. This technology will also support carers – both formal and informal – in supporting users with complex needs like dementia.

In Glasgow, our company Communicare247 is developing a system incorporating motion detection and a range of home-based environmental sensors that are connected by our ARC in Dunoon and its Archangel cloud portal via a smart phone app. The project, supported by Glasgow City Council (GCC) and Innovate UK, has been shown to enable ARC staff, carers and family members to monitor the user in a system designed to ensure peace of mind as well as improve safety and response times.

This pilot study is among the first in Scotland that moves telecare on from the old-fashioned “red button”, improving functionality, security and safety all at the same time.

Alexa, is this how we will live independently for longer?

Analogue to Digital FAQ

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We know that the analogue systems will cease in 2025 but could you confirm the exact date please?

No. There is no precise date published and the OfCom site only confirm “by 2025”. The 2025 date is an absolute date for completion, it is not a date upon which the analogue change-over is effected to digital. Each provider has its own dates and schedule – see the link above. In reality, the core BT network system (managed by Openreach) operates an IP Core – previously known as BT21CN – and a number of it’s exchanges are already upgraded, so technically, switching is well underway. BT has also confirmed that it will not take any further orders for analogue lines from 2021 and others are operating to earlier schedules.

We presume that there are a number of companies who will be carrying out the ‘switch over’ and wonder if they all work in the same way.

The above is also true for the majority of alternative network service providers (eg Virgin and Talk-Talk etc) who have already upgraded their infrastructure to full-fibre digital systems.

For example, can we expect that the analogue system carry on working right up until the digital system is fully installed?

Regrettably no. Analogue systems are in essence rendered obsolete and indeed, some vendors will cease supplying analogue equipment in 2020.  This is due to the signalling issued by the analogue device.  An analogue signal, transferred over an analogue network, received by an analogue receiver (within the alarm monitoring centre) is perfectly capable of performing normally. However, no network provider can guarantee a fully analogue signal path due to the mixed infrastructure which now exists. Consequently, there is a very real probability that the alarm signal is ‘corrupted’ en-route to the Alarm Centre. This manifests in the Alarm Receiver system not being able to interpret the signal in order to recognise it as an alarm call.  This incidence of “call failure” is increasing.  Some systems have automatic retry capabilities which means that the device will make further attempts to redial. Some suppliers are advocating use of “terminal adaptors” which will convert signals at the box in your home, this is NOT recommended because the signal path cannot be guaranteed, and both the Swedish Government and Scottish Government advice is to avoid this at all costs.

Will there be a guarantee (on both software and hardware) in place following installation?

Yes. All equipment is supplied fully guaranteed and with 24 hour and 365 day support. Our SLA is unsurpassed with a full 2 hour service resumption guarantee and 99.998% service availability.

Can you estimate how long would it take to do the ‘switch over’ in an apartment of, say, 40 apartments?

On the assumption that this is a standard telecare system, then the install time is approx 1 hour per property. We will also conduct group or individual training while in attendance.

Will running costs be more/less than the current analogue system?

We would need to understand the full requirements first.  However, digital service packages are comparable to current analogue market systems.

ASN pupils learn to travel independently

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Sanderson High School, an additional support needs (ASN) school, recognised that their pupils could not perform certain tasks. This was because their pupils had anxiety and low confidence when tasked with travelling independently.

Aisling Boyle, Head Teacher at the East Kilbride school, wanted to address this and in 2017 partnered up with digital telecare provider Communicare247, who offered their Freedom devices as a solution.

Communicare247’s Freedom Range is a location-enabled telecare service which provides independence to individuals who need additional support within the community.

Watch the videos below to see the children's journey

The devices allowed the teachers to track the children’s location to make sure they were safe. They also feature an SOS button allowing the child to directly contact their teacher if they felt distressed via two-way communication.

As part of the “Wider Achievement Programme,” the pupils were slowly introduced to the use of public transport while wearing the Freedom Devices. The confidence the pupils have in the Freedom Devices allowed Sanderson to build their confidence while travelling up one bus stop at a time.

Mrs Boyle said: “The pupils have more acceptance and confidence in the community as they are using public buses as opposed to school buses. They are more independent and they are gaining a life skill.

Following the implementation of the Freedom devices. Sanderson has seen a 50% increase in the number of alumni who are now able to travel on public transport rather than private hire.

Freedom devices

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said: “Our Freedom range has been designed to promote independence within the community, and it’s great to see the positive effects which it is having on the pupils at Sanderson.

“It also highlights the versatility of mobile digital telecare and how it can be implemented within the education sector.”

Due to the success of this Wider Achievement Programme, Sanderson High School developed an SQA qualification called “Independent Travel”.

Mrs Boyle continued: “The parents are very happy that we are managing to do this and that it has become part of our curriculum.

For their work with Sanderson High School, Communicare247 has been shortlisted for the Empowering Children and Young People Award at the Holyrood Digital Health and Care Awards.

The award recognises organisations who are using digital to engage and support children and young people to improve their health and wellbeing, empowering them by improving access to self-support resources and services to make positive decisions about their health and wellbeing.

Scotland’s young carers enjoy a fun-filled weekend getaway

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A group of young carers enjoyed a carefree weekend filled with fun, activities and long lie-ins at a holiday park in Dunoon thanks to support from Communicare247.

Thirty young people who spend time caring for others came from all over Scotland to enjoy a getaway at Hunters Quay Holiday Village. Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247 spearheaded an effort to ensure the kids enjoyed free accommodation and activities, ferry passage thanks to Western Ferries, as well as a Chinese takeaway.

Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, and Audrey Forrest, Argyll and Bute councillor, spent time on site and engaged with some of the young carers.

Mr O’Hara, who brought chocolate for the children, said: “As young carers, these kids are truly inspiring and I am delighted that they are able to take this well-deserved break. To have caring responsibilities at such a young age is very tough and I just wanted to meet them to acknowledge what they do and to say a huge thank you to everyone who was involved in making this holiday happen for them.”

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said: “We were so delighted to help these very deserving young people have a break. “Communicare247 works with carers across the UK to provide technology that makes their lives easier, so it made sense that we worked with Carers Trust Scotland to deliver this special project.

“It was a real local effort – with Keith Campbell of Argyll Holidays offering preferential rates and Gordon Ross of Western Ferries donating free crossings and Mike Cheng who delivered some great food from River Jade. I’m honoured that these kids really enjoyed themselves playing badminton, swimming or just kicking back and relaxing with friends.”

A chance to get away and have some fun away from caring responsibilities is a rare thing for these young people. For some it was their first time away in years. Susie Fraser, Director for Hollicom and Ambassador for Young Carers Trust Scotland, said:

“We knew from the outset that this was going to work when one of the young carers arrived at the holiday park and, smelling the swimming pool, said ‘it smells like a holiday’.

“One young carer told me about how she has been bullied on social media because she cares for her dad. She said this weekend away has been the first time she has felt normal in years. It was a privilege to be involved with the young carers getaway in Dunoon.”

Louise Morgan, Director for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Carers Trust Scotland, said: “Our extensive survey work consistently shows that 1 in 10 children in a class has a caring role. Right across Scotland and the rest of Great Britain young people are having to care for family members with complex needs. These range from disability and terminal illness to mental health problems, alcoholism and substance misuse.

“This year young carers chose #CareForMeToo as the campaign name for Young Carers Awareness Day, which recognises that their mental wellbeing will suffer with too much expected of them without appropriate support. “Events like the young carers getaway in Dunoon offer these young people a much-needed break from their caring responsibilities as well as a sense that there are people and agencies willing to offer support and care for them.

“Carers Trust Scotland would like to say a big thanks to Tom and his team at Communicare247 for the opportunity he has provided these young people.”

The initiative is part of the Charity Support Campaign launched by Commmunicare247 and its sister company Safe Shores Monitoring to celebrate 20 years of business growth. The Glasgow-based company operates its state-of-the-art Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) in Dunoon on the scenic Cowal peninsula.

Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247 pledged to support Carers Trust Scotland along with five other charities that are aligned with their social values as businesses throughout the group’s two decades of operation.

The six partner charities that have been chosen to benefit from the Communicare247 and Safe Shores Monitoring Charity Support Programme are: Carers Trust, the UK’s largest charity for unpaid carers; Carr Gomm, which delivers high quality support services and campaigns to tackle loneliness and social isolation; Help for Heroes and Poppyscotland, which support serving and veteran armed forces personnel and their families; and SAMH and SANE, leading Scottish and UK charities that
support people and families affected by mental illness.

Communicare247 helps young carers to take a break

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Article as featured in The Scotsman and the Insider

Digital telecare specialist Communicare247 is teaming up with a charity to help support young people across Scotland with caregiving responsibilities.

The health tech business, which provides monitoring services to support in-home care, has partnered with Carers Trust Scotland to provide a weekend break for 30 young carers at a Dunoon holiday park in February.

The event, which is coordinated by Carers Trust Scotland and the Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance, will see the youngsters sail from Gourock to the Hunters Quay Holiday Village, a resort belonging to the Argyll Holidays group.

The resort offers luxury caravan accommodation, a leisure complex with pool and sauna facilities, as well as a fitness centre and dance studio.

The initiative is part of a charity support campaign launched by Communicare247 and its sister company Safe Shores Monitoring to celebrate 20 years in business. Other charities supported by the campaign include Carr Gomm, Help for Heroes and Poppyscotland.

Communicare247 is based in Glasgow with an alarm receiving centre in Dunoon, where the firm was established.

Founder and chief executive Tom Morton said: “We take our hats off to these young people who give so much to help others, and we wanted to help them. By giving them the chance to have some fun and relaxation in our hometown of Dunoon, we hope that it goes some way in helping them feel valued for the sacrifices they make year-round to support others.

“We wanted to do this to celebrate that for 20 years we have been helping employers, and more recently carers, through Communicare247 with ensuring the security and safety of people either in the workplace or at home.”

Louise Morgan, director for Scotland and Northern Ireland at Carers Trust Scotland, said: “These children dedicate their lives to helping their loved ones and are often desperate for a break from their duties and to have a bit of fun – that’s why young carer respite services like this are such a lifeline for them.

“We welcome the support of organisations like Communicare247 to help make it happen each year.”

Communicare247 calls for focus on digital so £695million budget boost makes a difference

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Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, has welcomed extra funding for care services in England and Wales announced in the Budget worth £695million in 2019/20.

However, these funds which will be allocated to local authorities should be focused on delivering a digital transition which will make the UK’s growing care budgets more sustainable in the future.

Mr Morton said investment in digital telecare and applications of services and delivered by “internet of things” (IoT) must be deployed to solve the funding crisis facing local authorities and vulnerable people needing care in their homes across the UK.

With the added pressure of the current changes to the telecommunications network, effectively rendering existing analogue telecare alarm systems obsolete, councils must also ensure money is found to make transformational changes.

Mr Morton said: “The need for a vision and funding plan for adult social care has never been so urgent. We urge local authorities to spend the Chancellor’s boost wisely on the digital infrastructure that will ensure care is affordable and effective for all.

“Digital telecare platforms such as Archangel by Communicare247canenable care for all in the near future. IoT connected sensors will alert family and professional care staff to changes in the vital statistics of a frail or disabled person, while ‘smart’ pill packs will remind the user or their carers when medicines need to be administered and when prescriptions need refilling. Telehealth applications will also deliver care management systems accessible by both family and care providers as well as the users themselves.

“While some of these technologies exist they currently operate as isolated services and generate independent silos of data. Therefore these complex systems require integration within a single platform such as Archangel. Only by merging these data silos can we unlock the necessary efficiencies and the inherent knowledge within. It will require that local health and social care providers change the way their systems operate to ensure that elderly care remains affordable now and in the future.

Communicare247 launch Charity Support Programme

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Article as featured in The Scotsman and Third Force News.

Lone worker protection specialist, Safe Shores Monitoring, and its sister company, Communicare247, have launched a charity support campaign to celebrate 20 years of business growth.

Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247 have pledged to support six charities that are aligned with their social values as businesses throughout the group’s 20th year of operation.

The six partner charities that have been chosen to benefit from the Charity Support Programme are: Carers Trust, the UK’s largest charity for unpaid carers; Carr Gomm, which delivers high quality support services and campaigns to tackle loneliness and social isolation; Help for Heroes and Poppyscotland, which support serving and veteran armed forces personnel and their families; and SAMH and SANE, leading Scottish and UK charities that support people and families affected by mental illness.

Through the newly launched Charity Support Programme, Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247 will donate funds to the charities each time a customer contracts one of the companies’ services over the next 12 months. Customers will be given the opportunity to select their preferred partner charity or charities. The programme will also enable the customers to raise further funds for the charity partners supported by funding from the companies. Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247 are aspiring to raise £25,000 through the programme.

Tom Morton, CEO of both Communicare247 and Safe Shores Monitoring, said: “For 20 years we have been helping employers and more recently carers through Communicare247 with ensuring the security and safety of people either in the workplace or at home.

“We have chosen these six charities for our 20-year anniversary Charity Support Programme because the work they do chimes with our values of offering support, wellbeing and care to people who need it most.

“These charities are tireless in achieving their aims which include addressing homelessness and employment opportunities for former military service personnel and others; tackling mental health; ending loneliness and social isolation; and providing carer respite.

“We have structured the Charity Support Programme to maximise funds raised for our chosen charities, while also enabling our new customers to support their own fundraising efforts too.”

Mark Bibbey, Poppyscotland’s Chief Executive, said: “We are very grateful to Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247 for launching this exciting and ambitious fundraising project. Their Charity Support Programme will raise money that will help us provide life-changing support to the Armed Forces community living in Scotland in this most significant of years as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that led to the end of the First World War.”

Margaret Edwards, Director of Communications for SANE, said: “We were delighted to be chosen to be part of Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247’s Charity Support Programme and to hear that both the company and its customers will be joining our fight to change mental health for good.”

Lucy Wren, CEO of Carr Gomm, which is spearheading its Stomp Out Loneliness campaign to end social isolation, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as one of Safe Shores Monitoring and Communicare247’s partners for their celebratory Charity Support Programme. The money raised from this programme will go directly towards funding much-needed projects and activities that tackle loneliness and isolation for people of all ages and stages across Scotland.

“Loneliness has existed as a social concern for many years and has now become widely recognised as a growing problem. Activities and relationships, as well as a sense of belonging and purpose, are all essential to supporting positive health and wellbeing; Carr Gomm fundraises to develop projects that find new ways to address the gaps in society, supporting people to feel part of society and achieve their goals. 

“It’s vital that we continue in taking action to reduce the staggering statistic that one in ten of adults in Scotland often feel lonely.”

 

Communicare247 Freedom app in use

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 ‘[email protected]’ 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.”