New technology continues to play a significant role in the delivery and support of community care services across the UK and the world. Sunderland’s digital ambitions drive our city forward to remain at the forefront of research and development around assistive technology (AT) and telecare solutions.
Our City Plan has identified that we will continue to prioritise opportunities to utilise digital connectivity to improve the lives of our city’s residents. Technology is an enabler to help individuals to remain independent and safe at home.
To prove this concept, during 2018/19 Sunderland brought together a number of organisations to collaborate on the Internet of Things (IoT) national test bed pilot. The organisations included a wide variety of partners: Sunderland City Council, Sunderland Software Centre, the Digital Catapult North East and Tees Valley (NETV), health commissioners in Sunderland, the Local Government Association and NHS digital.
The localised pilot pioneered the use of devices such as smart phones and motion sensors in vulnerable people’s homes, to help their carers and families make sure they were safe when left alone, monitoring items including whether they were taking their medication and eating properly.
In addition, the pilot programme developed a software platform SHEILA (formerly called Sunderland Connected City Core), capable of being connected to a series of the sensors installed in those homes. The connectivity relied primarily upon fixed and mobile broadband to link the software with the sensors.
The beauty of this intuitive piece of software is that the platform collates the data and presents it in a comprehensive user interface for family/informal carers or Council care providers to easily use and analyse. Additional functionality enables ‘push alerts’ such as SMS text alerts, which allow a family/informal carer to passively monitor the wellbeing of the vulnerable individual.
Unique in the assistive technology market, the specific functionality for supporting care providers and family/informal carers in their design and delivery of appropriate support is ground-breaking as we strive to continuously improve support and opportunities for safe, independent living.
Unlike other technologies, the SHEILA can present historical data sets from multiple devices to any individual that the accessor has configured to be able to view. This historical data can be used to identify ongoing trends in an individual’s habits or schedule and support the design of appropriate support.
This technology enables a personalised approach to care needs as data derived from this smart software ensures the most appropriate package of services or care can be provided at an individualised level to achieve the best possible outcomes regarding safety, independence and quality of life.
The pilot highlighted a number of benefits of taking the technology to the next step, and it was agreed that the use of AT in the delivery of care should be promoted across the health and social care community.
The project team identified the improvements required to operationalise the outcomes at scale across the adult social care sector, including revisions to the core software and to the procurement, storage and installation of AT equipment and sensors. Following a short delay due to the outbreak of Covid-19, improvements to the software core are underway and scheduled for completion in September 2020.
With the aim of establishing assistive technology as a recognised and trusted mechanism to support the delivery of both formal and informal care, the council and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) gave agreement to its inclusion as part of the wider community equipment offer. Sunderland Care and Support, a trading company of the council, assumed responsibility for the purchase, promotion, fitting, demonstration and monitoring of the technology to ensure a structured and driven approach to implementation.
Key benefits and outcomes from the pilot and continuing work include:
- enhanced understanding of professionals in respect of the value of both AT and telecare
- higher value placed on the telecare service by both professionals and customers
- a campaign to promote the use of AT and telecare to support the management of functional activity, the development and maintenance of routines and to support issues such as loneliness or feelings of safety among users
- already over 200 families across the city have been supported to access an AT solution to their problems
- having implemented the operational infrastructure, this will enable further rollout at scale of this smart technology and provide the basis for meeting the city plan target of supporting 1,500 residents to use smart technology to meet their care needs
- opportunities to learn more about the use of data and how this should be presented to families and professionals to help them utilise opportunities to influence proactive care continues to grow
The pilot also highlighted that the majority of IoT sensors generally only needed to send small amounts of data. Which provided the realisation that connectivity to broadband may be preferable in some instances but not necessarily the most cost effective in terms of attempting to connect thousands of IoT sensors across the geographical city boundaries. As a result of the new found understanding around connectivity, the city is considering the business case related to the establishment of a low-power wide-area network, providing coverage across the city.
As numerous wider benefits of this approach become clear, discussions are already underway with organisations across the city in relation to how they could apply low-power wide-area network technology and IoT sensors in to their businesses to improve efficiency and customer service.
The possibilities for improving the city’s assistive technology offer could greatly benefit, should the low-power wide-area network plans be approved. It would remove the current barrier of clients having to have fixed or mobile broadband connectivity to benefit from this smart technology. And not only that, it would create the infrastructure to enable residents to use AT both inside and outside of the home to meet their care needs.
The improvements in quality of life, wellbeing and peace of mind for the families of service users as a direct result of the rollout of this scheme will bring comfort and safety to many across the city and beyond.