Health

'I book home care for my mum online'

Louisa and her mum Peggy Image copyright Louisa Bravery
Image caption Louisa and her mum, Peggy, book home care using an online service

Louisa Bravery's mum, Peggy, lives in the family home and loves everyday life with her grandchildren.

But she needs a little personal care when other members of the family are out at school or work.

Louisa wasn't sure where to turn to organise things but discovered she could book her mother's care using an online service.

That makes it easy to plan care flexibly depending on when Peggy might be alone at home.

"I just log in via the internet using my phone and just select the number of hours and the day and the time I want the carer to come. It's really quick and also the payment's all done online," Louisa says.

The service is provided by CERA, the brainchild of Dr Ben Maruthappu, who formerly had a senior policymaking role at NHS England.

It's designed to appeal to a generation used to booking holidays or running their bank accounts with a mobile phone and who want the same convenience to organise their parents' care needs.

He says his business model allows better pay for care staff.

"By being more efficient, we take a much smaller margin for ourselves and in turn reimburse carers much better - which allows them to be better valued, but allows us to attract higher quality carers," Dr Maruthappu says.

Business opportunity

At a time of squeezed local authority budgets, providing home care may not seem the most glamorous or lucrative business.

But new players in the market see the growing elderly population and the drive to look after more people in their homes as an exciting opportunity.

Cera is regulated by the Care Quality Commission, like traditional providers, and is a member of the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA).

UKHCA chief executive Bridget Warr welcomes the use of new technology but sounds a cautionary note.

"In a traditional home care provider, there will be human contact from the start, so somebody will come from the service to meet the client, to work out what the client wants, to work out together what they're going to deliver.

"With an online service, this is all done remotely," she says.

Ms Warr urges potential clients to check how companies train and recruit staff.

Image copyright Doug Harman
Image caption Personal alarms help people to live independently in their own homes

New technology is being harnessed both for booking carers and facilitating remote monitoring of the elderly, so reducing the need for home visits.

Hampshire County Council has developed telecare services to help people live independently in their own homes.

These include personal alarms, GPS tracking devices and movement sensors that are monitored 24 hours a day.

Tablet computers and video conferencing are also available to the elderly, to keep in touch with relatives and carers.

Graham Allen, Hampshire's director of adults' health and care, says there have been savings of £4.7m over three years because fewer visits by carers are required.

"Crucially, it's freed up formal care time, doing those tasks that only human beings can deliver to other humans. So it's a win win," he says.

Musical reminder

Hampshire has a contract with PA Consulting to run these technology services.

David Rees, of PA, believes it's just the start of a process that could transform the quality of life for the elderly.

"There are a number of products in the marketplace that can be used to play music or radio if they're asked, and we're looking at how that might help an individual," he says.

"For example, it might remind an individual to take a medicine, or ask how they are, and, depending on their response, if they're not that well, we can alert a loved one or carer."

The advocates of technology argue that cash-strapped local authorities can only benefit from solutions that allow people to live in their own homes rather than needing residential care.

But it's a long journey. The immediate challenge is finding the money to sustain day-to-day services, never mind investing for the future.

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