Richard Haynes is Director at The Community Gateway and founder of Gadget Hub. This is the second post in a four-part series of blogs (read part one here) where Richard talks about his experience of mainstreaming telecare and why he thinks life-enhancing technologies deserve to have the retail factor.


Imagine you have reached the upper limits that the carrier pigeon and smoke signalling offers. Perhaps your carrier pigeon is just worn out. Even the landline telephone no longer supports your everyday communication needs. I should say at this point that less than 91% of people in this universe have heard about mobile phones and people don’t talk about, well, you know, it, because, well, it’s a bit embarrassing having a mobile phone.

So you go to the only place you can think of that might be able to help with your inability to communicate over long distances – and help you with your disability.

So initially, remembering that you do not know of the existence of mobile phones, let alone dreaming about the next iPhone 6 or Samsung S5.  Your first thought is that you need someone to communicate for you on your behalf over long distances. This is the only logical solution. Perhaps you need a very fast motorcycle courier, or better still someone with a helicopter. I can’t second guess your expectation but it’s unlikely that you have a mobile phone on your mind or in your expectations as you have not seen or heard of one before (nor any other methods of instantaneously messaging or communicating that exist such as WhatsApp, SMS, Skype or email, because yes, you guessed, you need a smart-phone). Because of your disability, you go to the main person you trust. It might be a GP, it could be social services. The GP or social worker may not know lots about mobile phones (how can they, there are so many phones and it is so niche!). Consequently, as experts, your GP or social worker may feel nervous raising a subject with you that they know so little of, in the knowledge that they are probably not able to answer all your questions.

Are you eligible?

To ensure your eligibility against service criteria for a mobile phone, you will probably need to see a social worker first, then an occupational therapist, so it may not be one person who needs to come and see you. In fact, the mobile phone manufacturer may need to come out also, who may charge the mobile phone service for this in some way. When the social worker meets with you, you will need to be assessed against a comprehensive assessment which by the time it is fully completed is probably approaching 12 pages long. After this, a two-page referral is completed. The two-page referral triggers a ‘mobile phone expert’ to come out and meet with you. After the expert person has met with you at home, you are a little wiser now in that you know that you do not as previously thought need a motorcycle courier or helicopter but instead, need some sort of mobile phone thing that you have never heard of or seen before.

Disappointingly, you still do not know what your mobile phone looks like or indeed if you actually want one. You find out however accidently from someone you know who works for the council that there is one Independent Living Centre (ILC) and a demo flat (for the entire council area you live in) where you can see a mobile phone thingy. So you set off to investigate. After taking a few buses, you arrive at the demo flat or ILC.  You find on arrival that the building is in a pretty tired state and in a part of town that could, in the darker winter months in particular, feel unwelcoming.  This is perhaps an understatement. You may also discover that the demo facility is in fact only accessible by appointment only, after venturing out. There is a reception desk, a visitors’ signing in book and a locked door between you and your mobile phone.

You then need to wait for the phone to be delivered, even though you can either collect the device, or have someone who can collect it for you. So six months later after first seeing your GP or social worker you now have your phone finally. Disappointingly though, you have discovered over the past months that despite there being many new models that look attractive or have features that you prefer, you must have the device that your council has offered. You put it in a drawer, to gather dust and only to be forgotten…

I have presented this scenario many times now, in presentations and workshops to small groups of social workers and telecare services, and to larger groups as part of the Assisted Living Innovation Programme dissemination. Telecare products have come on loads and look better in some cases than the modern television set top boxes designed by the big Japanese TV manufacturers. What has not radically changed however is the structure and conduct of the industry, which determines its performance and is largely dictated by the current ‘channels to market’.

What next?

This is the second in a four-part series of blogs and in my next post, I will share my experience of giving telecare the retail factor though the Gadget Hub, before summarising the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Thanks for reading!

Richard @richardchaynes @tcg_cic