Pioneering Twenty First Century Social Care

By 2050, it’s predicted that four times as many people will need social care as today*, which will result in a major resourcing crisis for the care sector.

That’s why United Response is the first charity pioneering a new integrated telephone/video system as a means of supporting people with learning disabilities or mental health needs. It’s called telesupport.

The project embraces cutting edge technology – a stand-alone unit incorporating broadband-enabled telephone, videoscreen and camera – to pilot a flexible, 24 hour form of support. Telesupport will complement face to face provision, offering a service which is available as and when people need it, with support workers, friends and peers just the touch of a button away.

Additionally, by reducing some unnecessary home visits, overall costs will be reduced. United Response’s partner in the project is Aupix, leading UK experts in the delivery of new solutions incorporating IP and video technology. Aupix have created a unique, tailored solution for the telesupport project which ensures it is fully user friendly for people with learning disabilities or mental health needs.

United Response has already run two workshops involving the technology to test the outline concept. Feedback from people with learning disabilities or mental health needs was overwhelmingly positive, with users finding the devices easy to use and believing they would be both reassuring and highly practical.

As a result, United Response is funding a limited trial, with 5 people with learning disabilities and 3 people with mental health needs using the technology. 7 residences have had the technology installed, so that the effectiveness of the service can be thoroughly tested and evaluated against a benchmark of current provision.

Initial findings show that, in addition to the flexibility of the service, telesupport could provide additional benefits including visual support for those who find verbal communication challenging and also assist with specific mental health conditions – helping people with schizophrenia to manage their “voices” for example, in a way that just isn’t possible with an ordinary telephone.

Although telesupport must never replace essential face to face support, it is likely to be a highly valuable additional technique as part of an overall “care menu”. It is very flexible, so can fit around the schedule of the person requiring support, and their own preferences regarding privacy. Initial feedback has also shown that it could provide an excellent channel for peer to peer communications and support, as well as family contact.

Su Sayer, chief executive of United Response, said, “We’ve always tried to pioneer the best ways of supporting people, from the early days of care in the community, and telesupport seems a logical step forward. We believe we are the first organisation to use this technology to create an improved, more accessible and flexible service, and our initial findings show it has a major potential value to people, although it must never replace face to face support.”

John Dixon, director of adult services in West Sussex County Council, said, “We are keen to explore anything which can provide an improved but cost effective new way of providing care and support. From United Response’s initial research, it’s clear that telesupport is welcomed by the people who are using it, and has unexpected benefits, particularly in how flexible it can be around individual lifestyles. We look forward to further findings and hopefully seeing telesupport improve the lives of people with learning disabilities or mental health needs in West Sussex and beyond.”

Anne Davey, a United Response service manager who has begun using telesupport with three people she works with, said, “It’s a really exciting project and we’re all looking forward to seeing how it can help us. It’s already had one benefit for me, personally. One person I work with often needs a little support out of hours.

“Because he has a speech difficulty, it’s not always easy to understand what he needs from me, so I have to make a face to face visit just in case. Through telesupport he finds it far easier to communicate, partly through using gestures, so I am able to support him without always having to disrupt his day.”

United Response is now seeking funding for a fuller pilot programme and rollout later this year.