Telecare can help UK cope with growing issue of the elderly

BY 2025 the number of people aged 85 or older in the UK is set to increase by 70 per cent to nearly two million. By 2020 there will be 50 per cent more people over 65.

In this former group more than a third of men and more than half of women live alone and most have a limiting long-term illness. By 2020 there will be 68 per cent more people with dementia than there are now.

New research from the Bow Group Telecare – a crucial opportunity to help save our health and social care system by Professor Sue Yeandle of Leeds University, who is also the co-author of the recent excellent Carers Scotland Report A weight off my mind, highlights that most of the care support needed by older sick and disabled people living at home is supplied by two specific groups of people.

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The significantly larger is made up of unpaid carers, many of whom struggle to combine paid work and unpaid care, and some of whom have to give up their paid work in order to care. The others are workers in health and social care occupations such as nurses and nursing home workers.

With many people living longer and with illness or disability, the future scenario for care at home, which is where most people prefer to be supported during periods of illness, threatens to be increasingly costly.

The solution to many of these pressures is a policy which supports the large-scale rolling out of what has come to be known as telecare, and the UK is the world leader.

Telecare offers a win-win solution for the health and social care system by helping sick, disabled and older people remain at home for longer by supporting them 24/7 with alarms, alerts, health monitoring and communication. Telecare consists of a base unit and wireless sensors that link to a 24-hour response centre that monitor risks associated with, for example, falls, fire, dementia, poor health, gas leaks and security.

Importantly, Scotland is leading in this healthcare revolution.

The Scottish Government's national telecare development programme is a welcome initiative which aims to promote its use, train staff and roll out more units. It hopes that between 2010 and 2015 telecare will become an integral part of care services in Scotland.

Independent analysis in Scotland showed 93 per cent of service users said they felt safer as a result of having the telecare service in place, and more than two-thirds felt more independent. A total of 87 per cent of respondents felt their families worried less, as telecare provides valuable reassurances to both them and their carers and families. Seventy five per cent of respondents confirmed telecare had reduced pressures on them, providing valuable peace of mind and reducing stress.

In 2007-8, telecare introduction delivered gross savings of 11.15 million in Scotland. Total cost gross savings delivered over 2007-2010 are on track to be a minimum of 43m. A total of 81,000 hospital bed days have been saved in Scotland in just one year as a direct result of the telecare service. Results in urban West Lothian have been particularly impressive.

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Telecare technology was found to have many undisputed positives. It can be installed in virtually all homes, is comparatively cheap, monitoring centres operate with high efficiency, and users have immediate reassurance.

In short it enables independent living whilst saving the state and families considerable sums of money which would traditionally have been consigned to keeping relatives in expensive residential homes or taking up valuable hospital space.

• Tony Lodge is a council member of the Bow Group. The Telecare paper is independent research from the University of Leeds, published by the Bow Group.