We talk all of the time about the role technology can play in an ever-changing social care landscape. We recognise that some people can be wary of trying something that they are not familiar with. We were sent the blog post below from one of our partner organisations, Cyrenians, about the journey they have been on with us. They express some of these fears but explain the work we undertook with them and the positive impact it has had on individuals…

To call me a technophobe is somewhat of an understatement.  Even now, in 2019, I walk around with an “old” Nokia in my pocket, and I’ve only recently given in to having a smartphone for my work.  So the very fact that I’m writing about the virtues of technology in a care and support setting is a testament to the positive experience I’ve shared with one of our services here at Cyrenians.

A couple of years ago we were told about a pilot, Edinburgh Council were running, to introduce technologies into people’s homes with the aim of removing the need for expensive and invasive sleepovers.  Admittedly I was concerned about the introduction of technology in place of the support a staff member could offer.  I was worried that it was motivated from a cost-saving perspective, rather than from a place of improving the service we provide, to the individuals who require our support.

However, after sitting through a demonstration of SOL Connect (Support for Ordinary Living) technology packages and hearing how this was created (using feedback from people with learning disabilities who were sick of having strangers coming into their homes, and invading their privacy, in the name of a risk-averse care system)  I started to change my views.

We very tentatively started looking into the possibility of this for one of the newly commissioned supported accommodation services, where 4 men were living together with 24-hour staffing, having moved from the Royal Edinburgh or highly supported community rehabilitation accommodation.

After a relatively long and well-planned partnership between Cyrenians, SOL, Edinburgh Council we started to pilot the technology in the house, whilst maintaining sleepovers for a 2 month period.  The aim of this was to have the technology and SOL response team responsible for support in the first instance whilst the sleepover member of staff remained as a back-up option should anything have gone wrong.

A series of risk enablement meetings were held to give everyone involved the opportunity to share any concerns they had, and help us create solutions to these before they occurred.  All technology introduced was agreed by the people in the house and their support teams to ensure they were as non-invasive as possible and only covered actual risks related to the needs of the individuals.

The technologies we employed included personal HUBs in each person’s room and a shared HUB in the kitchen.  The HUBs have a video call facility to contact SOL and can include other bespoke functions such as games and radio to make them as accessible and useful as possible.  We also fitted a door alarm and camera to support people with gatekeeping, which was a concern for those involved.  Alongside this, there is a direct connection to a fire department alert system in case of a fire to ensure everyone is able to get out safely, with the fire brigade alerted automatically.

A prime concern was around how people would feel about having HUBs and cameras in their homes given the experiences and particular issues surrounding people with mental health problems (such as paranoia and auditory hallucinations) and the symptoms this can bring.

This concern was discussed openly with everyone and whilst initially two people chose not to have their HUBS turned on in their rooms, they later started to feel more positive and realised they had total control over how it was used.  They requested particular apps to be installed which made it useful to them and started to turn them on and use them.

Others warmed to the technology straight away and began using the service daily for some company and interaction when staff weren’t present in the building and even referred to the SOL technology and staff, as his “friends at the end of his bed”.  The technology can also be adapted to meet different needs such as dexterity, visual impairments etc. to make it more accessible.

Following a successful pilot, we have since removed all sleepovers and replaced this with a responder service, which is rarely called.  We now have 4 men who are living more independent and private lives.  It has also made the concept of moving onto more independent accommodation a more realistic prospect for them.

This has also resulted in us being able to use our staffing far more creatively, giving more day time shifts which are better utilised for supporting people to achieve their goals.

Another of the key factors in the success of the pilot was an amazing, supportive staff team, who had spent a year building up trust, respect, and partnership working with the men who live there.  This was crucial to the smooth running of the pilot and final implementation of the project.

My learning from this is that technology has some amazing innovations to offer people and the key is to ensure its use and implementation comes from the intent of enhancing people’s lives and independence.  Whilst resource benefits such as money-saving and staffing structure advantages are all great side effects these should never be the driving force, and the Cyrenians and SOL technology pilot has really harnessed this outlook.