Features: June 29th, 2015

With Local Authorities budgets across the UK reducing, Steve Smith of Welbeing discusses whether this could be an opportunity to create a new model for community alarm and telecare services which are person-centred and cost-effective

I’ve worked in the community alarm/telehealthcare sector for more than 30 years now, but the last 5 years have been some of the most challenging and exciting I’ve experienced. We’re seeing unprecedented change in the way Local Authorities are delivering services, with both positive and negative results.

The reduction in funding from central Government, along with changes to the way Supporting People funds are administered, have had a significant impact on housing and social care. For example, last year Staffordshire County Council halved its Supporting People budget affecting many thousands of alarm service users. The decision prompted a number of providers to either discontinue their telecare service or migrate services to other providers.

An example of this is Aspire Housing who, following the reduction in funding, decided to move away from the provision of telecare services. Whilst they had previously taken the decision to close their own control centre they had wanted to deliver these services in a different way. Working in partnership with Welbeing, current Aspire Housing customers have been migrated to Welbeing with Aspire telecare staff being protected via TUPE arrangements. As much of the funding used to pay for the service no longer exists, Welbeing provided a bridging service allowing services users time to consider whether they wished to have the service decommissioned or pay for the service out of their own funds.

Our approach has been to clearly communicate the benefits of community alarms/telecare to users and their families, explain that despite funding being withdrawn, the service was still available to them for a small fee. An encouraging 60-70% of people chose to continue with the service, proving its value. The biggest barrier to the uptake of telecare is a lack of public awareness, and we’ve found that if you can overcome this people are willing to pay a small amount for something that could change or even save their lives.

We’ve been working in Staffordshire for around five years now, and Aspire Housing is not the first housing provider to find that smaller monitoring centres face a struggle to survive. In 2009 we won a tender from Tamworth Borough Council to monitor their community alarm connections. Seeing the success of this service, Bromford Homes approached us to provide their monitoring to what was previously Lichfield District Council housing stock. We’re also contracting directly with Staffordshire County Council to provide services in other districts, including in Cannock Chase where the Council also recently closed its community alarm contact centre.

Consolidation nation

I believe we will continue to see 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 impact of central 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 need 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, 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, managing risk and enabling independence in a cost-effective, personalised way.

Altogether better

Our work with West Sussex County Council is a joint funded model, with health and social care working together to avoid hospital admissions and deliver timely discharge. Patients are assessed by staff from Welbeing, and their telecare package is funded for 13 weeks. At the end of this time Welbeing decommission the equipment and redeploys it. Alternatively service users can choose to continue to pay for the telecare service themselves, and the majority of them do.

Introducing this model has led to significant on-going growth in the number of private pay telecare users in West Sussex; currently there are around 3,500 users who have become clients of Welbeing. The benefit of this arrangement is that residents are safeguarded whilst the burden on the social care purse is reduced. In the light of the current A&E crisis I believe it is vital that as an industry we do everything we can to ensure bed blocking is kept to a minimum. Telecare is key I believe in providing discharge teams with the confidence that a vulnerable patient can be discharged safely, often a concern where a vulnerable patient lives alone.

I believe the secret of our success has been to offer cost effective, flexible solutions based on the needs of our clients and service users. As a large, well-resourced monitoring centre with a significant number of specialist telecare engineers we can offer better services for less, enabling monies saved to be reinvested and protect other services. While there are challenges associated with the current climate it also presents us with a raft of opportunities. We can make care more person-centred, we can commission based on outcomes and we can create cost-effective, sustainable services.

Let’s make the most of these opportunities and be proud that what we do is so worthwhile.

About Welbeing
Welbeing started life as a joint venture of Wealden District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council to provide a community alarm and monitoring service, Wealden and Eastbourne Lifeline. Today we are one of the UK’s leading independent providers of telecare and telehealth solutions, supporting people on behalf of a number of organisations across the UK from our telecare response centre in East Sussex.