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Sunderland: We're building a test bed for assistive technologies

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Residents of 5,500 homes will benefit from a rollout of smart tech devices intended to promote independence and wellbeing.

  • Project: National Assistive Technologies Test Bed
  • Objectives: To support people to live independently in their own homes for longer through new, innovative technology.
  • Timescale: Initial implementation: November 2018 to April 2019
  • Cost to authority: Jointly funded by Sunderland City Council, Sunderland CCG, and NHS Digital through the Local Government Association’s social care digital innovation programme
  • Number of staff working on project: Fluctuating numbers from both council and partners depending upon the stage of the project.
  • Outcomes: - Deploying 120 devices to those with identified care needs. These are new assistive technologies across four use-case themes, interacting with the Core system to provide a meaningful analysis of data form the devices.
    - Developing Core monitoring system up to the minimal viable product stage will be developed and delivered. This will be a pioneering system for assistive technology delivery within the authority.
    - Delivering a comprehensive evaluation report detailing the financial and social benefits to end users and service providers
    - Delivering a plan for wider project scaling and mainstreaming, including lessons learnt, to share with other local authorities and service providers

Alongside colleagues in adult care services across the country, we face the daily challenge of balancing decreasing budgets against the increasing demands of a rapidly ageing population. Indeed, the number of residents aged 65 or older is predicted to increase by 27% by 2030.

Our main aim is to help adults who may have social care needs to stay independent for as long as possible in their own homes, and to allow family and friends around them to support their independence. We know this is in line with what most people prefer and we will do everything we can to help them achieve this.

To this end we want to harness the readily accessible mobile smart devices like mobile phones, tablets and home automation products as ‘assistive technology’, providing people with the means to live independently.

It is well known that this technology can perform tasks like reminding people to take medicines or attend medical appointments, or to monitor the home environment. But we want to see how it can be adapted to help support residents and their carers to manage their own health and social care conditions.

One example of someone who could benefit from this is Mrs Q, who has Parkinson’s disease. This means she could freeze mid-motion, increasing her risk of falling dramatically. Her husband and carer feels anxious when she leaves the house to go to the shops, as he is worried that she might leave her chair during the day and fall.

Technology devices can detect any movement should Mrs Q move away from the safety of her armchair, alerting her husband through his mobile phone, which means he can personally monitor Mrs Q’s movement from wherever he is.

We are confident this approach and others like it will transform how care services are designed and delivered, providing scope for early intervention solutions, enabling greater self-care among residents and carers. This technology has the ability to bridge the distance gap between carers and cared-for no matter where they are.

We recognised we would benefit from a collaborative approach working with specialists to test our theory, so we formed a strong partnership made up of Sunderland City Council, the non-profit Digital Catapult, Sunderland Software Centre and the smart city consultancy Urban Foresight.

This was facilitated by the council’s participation in the social care digital innovation programme, which brings on board support and financial backing from the Local Government Association, NHS Digital and their partners.

Through this partnership we established our National Assistive Technologies Test Bed, allowing us to test our approach. Our project has two phases.

First is a pilot with initial trial deployment of connected devices, and the building of the Core monitoring platform. The Core will be used as an integral part of the National Assistive Technologies Test Bed. Our clients will share information with us from their connected devices, which we can then collect and analyse to gauge the effectiveness of individual technology.

The Core will analyse the data to present it in a meaningful way to care recipients and the family carer. Care team professionals are expected to use the data to help them make better informed decisions regarding future care requirements.

Assistive technology devices will be procured and selected as part of the pilot, and their effectiveness evaluated across four case areas: medication management, mood monitoring, nutrition and hydration, and moving around the home.

The Core is in the process of being procured, with the deployment of the first 120 devices due to be completed by the end of February. By the end of March the Core will be ready to collect and analyse all the data generated by the assistive technology devices. Evaluation from the first 120 devices will influence a further rollout phase which seeks to increase deployment to 5,500 homes.

By combining multiple streams of data it will be possible to form a more complete data picture of a person’s lifestyle and wellbeing. The Core will be the data hub for the assistive technology test bed at both pilot stage and scale up stage.

Each home may potentially have up to 10 connected devices, with data coming into the system from the connected devices and information going out via a series of information dashboards. This can be used by care recipients themselves, their families and social care sta to ensure care is provided in the most effective way.

Dave Young, deputy strategic change manager, Sunderland City Council

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