Sarah Sims, Project Manager for Real Life Options, talks about learning from the Transformation of Residential Care Homes (ToRCH) project.

At the end of last year I wrote about ToRCH and Real Life Options, a national voluntary organisation providing support for individuals with learning disabilities. ToRCH is all about increasing choice and control for the people we support through the personalised use of telecare assistive technology and is an at-scale scheme combining various different initiatives that are being evaluated through research. This two-year project has involved Real Life Options working in partnership with Birmingham City CouncilBirmingham University, Helen Sanderson Associates and Tunstall. ToRCH is fantastic because its outcomes are now being reflected in the lives of the individuals who we support – many of whom have improved life choices and lead more independent lives. However, the project hasn’t been without its challenges! ToRCH has seen assistive technology installed in 12 locations, supporting over 90 individuals, and has been a huge learning experience, so I wanted to write again to share some of our learning.

Holistic support

We often call telecare ‘assistive technology’ but there are a lot of other terms. What we mean is any technology that supports people to live the life they choose. For example, we support Leonie, who has a learning disability, with things like attending appointments, shopping and managing her finances. Leonie chose to move into her own flat with her son, so our challenge was to help promote her independence while minimising the risks of independent living, such as fire, flood, falls or illness. For Leonie, the answer was to be found by integrating telecare into a holistic package of support that ensures Leonie remains in control.

Learning for the future

With ToRCH we have learnt that, by taking a person-centred approach and constantly adapting support to meet people’s changing needs, technology can promote person-centred care, increasing choice and control. We have also learnt that it can be cost-effective, frequently saving resources and freeing up money for the person to spend elsewhere as we move into a world of direct payments. Put simply, we have learnt that being cost-effective while increasing quality of life is not only possible it is also desirable – so long as the change process is properly managed. For example, annual costs were £328,266.12 in two of our test sites, a residential home and a supporting living service. Through the appropriate use of technologies, costs dropped to £133,780 per year.  Notably, there was a reduction in the need for waking night staff and the use of technology increased people’s quality of life at the same time as making savings.

Elsewhere in the project around £325,000 has been returned to commissioners as a result of the application of technology, redesign of jobs and changing processes to provide ‘just enough support’. For example, Glynis has a learning disability and we support her with her incontinence, among other things. During a review we noticed that Glynis was not sleeping very well. In fact, she was often getting up and walking about. This had a negative impact on Glynis’ wellbeing and meant staff had to check on her on an hourly basis. This was not only disruptive for Glynis but also disruptive for others living within the shared accommodation. Here an enuresis sensor on her bed and a door sensor helped Glynis get a good night’s sleep and gave her more privacy. This safely reduced the number of night staff and Glynis slept better. It also freed up resources that can be better directed to support people’s wants and needs.

Through the project we know that change led by people who use services, underpinned by strong leadership, the full participation of the workforce, wider stakeholders and the people we support, can go some way to deliver the vision of modern, inclusive social care in a cost-effective way.

Sarah Sims, Project Manager, Real Life Options

Find out more about Real Life Options