William Eichler 01 December 2021

Councils set to trial digital technology to support social care

Councils set to trial digital technology to support social care image

Buckinghamshire Council and Suffolk County Council are both going to take part in trials looking at how digital technology can be used to support adult social care.

The two local authorities will take part in a £22.9m SMART Places Live Labs Programme, run by ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Places and Transport), which will explore the wider application for using sensors in local communities.

Buckinghamshire Council has created a MESH network around the town with interconnected sensors and nodes built into street lighting. The adult social care trial, due to take place in January 2022, will see sensors installed in the homes of 12 volunteers – who will also have wearable devices – all connected to an app.

The app will be able to send alerts to the wearer – for icy weather, for example – but also to carers, alerting them to incidents such as falls, someone leaving home unexpectedly or appearing to be lost. The trial will also test how the technology might enable people to stay in their homes for longer with greater autonomy and independence, and thereby reducing pressure on the social care system.

Suffolk County Council is also using sensors, exploring how a long range wide-area network (LoRaWAN) and geofencing (virtual perimeter) technology might enable a similar level of independence. The technology can monitor daily routines to check people are active and behaving normally, but also check for household problems such as water leaks or unsafe carbon monoxide levels.

Currently, the technology is being tested only with volunteers. According to the Live Labs Commissioning Board, there is a long way to go before trials with vulnerable people could take place.

‘The potential for using SMART technology to enable people to be safe and stay independent in their own homes for longer is fantastic, but it is still in its infancy. Both trials are being set up purely to test the technology with volunteers drawn from local authority teams,’ Neil Gibson, Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board

‘So much depends on people being able to trust the technology and how their data will be analysed, used and shared. To get to that point will require a lot of engagement and investment, both in time and resources, as there is no question that local authorities and their partners would need to get this right for their communities. That said, the potential benefits are incredible, and we are excited to see the outcomes of the trials.’

Luciano Lopes, Buckinghamshire Live Labs Project Manager, said: ‘This initiative could allow the local authority to promote independence and wellbeing using digital services and technology. It also means that care delivery could be better coordinated, interventions could take place at an earlier stage, and citizens need tell their story only once rather than multiple times.’

Brigitte Sodano-Carter, Suffolk Live Labs Project Manager, comment: ‘The opportunity to support the vulnerable in our communities was both thought provoking and exciting. We used colleagues as volunteers as the pandemic limited our options. Being a volunteer gave me a unique insight how it felt to use the technology. It opened my mind to how we must invest, not only in educating the public, but winning their trust around how and why we would use personal data. Using technology to support our vulnerable to remain independent and safe is essential but would also reduce the pressure on our partners in the police and health services.’

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