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Tailored telecare from trained staff

Source: Public Sector Executive May/June 2013

Linda Harper, Leslee Merry and Fran Gudger describe the partnership approach behind Trafford’s ambitious telecare scheme, and the training given to staff to enable it.

Why should local authorities outsource telecare services to private sector companies when the capability to do so exists in-house?

Trafford City Council has developed an innovative approach to homecare in partnership with Trafford Housing Trust, using technology to reduce hospital admissions and improve quality of life.

PSE spoke to Linda Harper and Leslee Merry, deputy corporate director and community wellbeing officer at the council, and Trafford Housing Trust’s care manager Fran Gudger.

Telecare is one of the council’s strategic priorities to promote resilience and independence, as well as “developing capacity within local communities so it’s sustainable for the longer term,” Harper said.

The programme collaborates with different council support services as well as social workers, frontline practitioners and the NHS. Merry said: “We started to engage with occupational therapists, acute hospital trusts, Primary Care Trusts, and eventually GPs – that was quite a success.”

Every point of contact

Support and training let staff provide referrals themselves, rather than buying in services to undertake assessments on behalf of the council.

“Why would we do that?” Merry said. “We already have competent assessors within the council and our partners. We built on that and developed a referrer’s manual, a helpline, and a smart flat model with Trafford Housing Trust, so people could see telecare in action.”

Referrals are made from throughout the NHS and the voluntary sector, particularly Age UK. “We engaged an ‘every point of contact’ approach,” Harper said.

Over 500 people have been trained to refer residents for telecare. Outcomes are individually developed at the point of referral, and tracked by the council and housing trust. Harper said: “That might be quality of life, or reduced admissions to residential care or hospital, which is obviously huge for us. It can reduce the stress on carers, which is also a high priority.

“We know we’ve kept people out of hospital, we can calculate the weeks. We’ve kept people from entering residential care; there are real, tangible outcomes.”

Trafford Council hopes to support 300 more people over 80 using telecare by the end of 2013. In total 500 people are projected to start using telecare this year.

Operational partnership

Working with the trust brought added value to the project, particularly in relation to sheltered accommodation and support for older people. Harper said: “We were very aware that we would be looking to support practitioners at the front-end. At a more strategic level, we were very keen to work with a trusted and established partner.”

A group established to lead the project evolved to become ‘telecare champions’. Merry said: “It’s quite a unique commissioning relationship – they meet directly with Trafford Housing Trust on a monthly basis and feed back the experiences of users directly, shaping the way the service evolves. That’s been really positive from a continuity and sustainability perspective.”

The staff culture within the council was to “consider telecare first”, she added.

Gudger said the partnership made the trust decide to “look at our own internal organisation and how we were doing things”.

“We needed to appoint somebody completely dedicated to telecare – that helped us to move the service on to where it is today. We started with about 242 service users and now we’ve got 1,800.”

The trust is responsible for buying equipment without having to ask permission from the council. She said: “We’ve been very lucky with the council because they’ve allowed us to develop the service how we knew it needed to be developed. They’ve not been telling us exactly how we should do it.

“We can try out new things because we know we’ve got that budget and we can use it how we think is best.”

The right model

Other trusts could make use of the approach, Harper said.

“Our approach has been very much based on partnership, with clear roles in relation to service user need and knowledge about the market generally. We worked very hard to develop those relationships, we don’t impose services. For Trafford this approach was right.

“Commissioning and procuring a traditional telecare provider is not necessarily the answer.

“We’ve got a business case that demonstrates brilliant results. It can be customised, but depends on skilled individuals to own and drive the agenda and develop those relationships.”

She said the success in Trafford depended on the energy and passion staff brought to the project, but said there was “no reason” other authorities could not use a similar approach to make a major impact.

Merry added: “Telecare is not one size fits all. It has to tailor to the individual; we made sure that happened.

“It’s quite challenging, but it’s worth doing. When you speak to the people using telecare, you realise it makes a massive difference to their lives.”


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