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Rise in telecare system call failures “unacceptable” expert warns

By Uncategorised

Article as featured in Future Scot

Old alarm systems currently used by vulnerable people receiving care in their homes are experiencing higher rates of call failures which is putting their wellbeing at risk, a telecare expert has warned.

More than 1 million alarm calls made by people in their homes failed to connect to alarm receiving centres (ARCs) in the UK last year, according to analysis by Communicare247. In Scotland, it is estimated there were almost 100,000 alarm calls made by people in their homes failed to connect to alarm receiving centres.

This affected people using telecare systems to call for help when they needed assistance from carers or even calls requiring response from fire and ambulance services.

Further to Comunicare247’s analysis, a white paper published by the telecare industry body TSA showed how one Scottish local authority saw its call failure rate spike to reach 12.3% in one month due to network incompatibility problems.  

Ofcom, the UK telecommunications industry regulator, has also highlighted its concerns about risks to social care systems while the UK’s public switched telephone network (PSTN) is being switched to a digital system. The regulator has warned the migration to digital will see interoperability issues for the 1.7million people in the UK who are reliant on analogue telecare services.  

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said: “Every citizen should feel assured that a service being provided to help them remain safe at home will enabled an alarm call to reach the help that is needed.

“Digital networks are expanding quickly and some areas are reporting significant call failure spikes which are completely avoidable.

“Similar experiences reported in Sweden and Australia have identified the root cause of these call failures is linked to the incompatibility of analogue alarm signal protocols which are not properly interpreted by alarm centre systems when transfered over new digital phone networks.”

BT has confirmed that its commenced the migration of its network to digital this autumn, a process that will be complete by 2025. Other networks such as Talk-Talk and Sky are already digital, and Virgin Media has confirmed its transition will be complete in 2020.

Mr Morton said: “These spikes, which put people’s wellbeing at risk, are increasing in frequency and are unacceptable. They are proven to be caused by old analogue telecare systems and these need to be quickly replaced.


Communicare247 and Telecare Aware Logo

Analogue telecare is a dead horse: stop flogging it

By Uncategorised

This article was published in Telehealth and Telecare Aware.

Call failures to alarm receiving centres in the UK are rising but the reasons for this are currently the subject of hot debate.

The problem is linked to the roll out of the next generation network (NGN) replacing the UK’s analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), a task which will be complete by 2025.

What is not debatable is that 1.7m of the most vulnerable in our society are being placed at risk as calls to alarm receiving centres (ARCs) increasingly fail or are delayed in their delivery due to incompatibilities of existing technologies.

At the Telecare Services Association (TSA) conference in November 2017, technology-enabled care services company Appello, with circa 100k telecare system users, identified a 7.5 percent call failure rate and announced the problem as “deeply worrying”.

At the same event, Communicare247 presented a report which highlighted a significant 12.3 percent spike in call failures identified by Falkirk Council. This was part of an ongoing analogue to digital assessment program operating across 12 percent of the existing Scottish telecare user base, and significantly this spike occurred in Falkirk within a short three month period. Both Falkirk Council and Appello have published their evidence of increasing call failures in a TSA whitepaper.

The TSA white paper, A Digital Future For Technology Enabled Care, highlights that the 1.7million people in the UK reliant on telecare need answers as their service is “threatened by disruption as UK telecommunications shift from analogue to digital”.

Yet the link to call failures and the rollout of NGN has been called into question by a major equipment provider. In a recent blog, they asked a very challenging question: Are network issues causing a greater number of alarm call failures?

Their answer delivered by the blog was, in essence, ‘maybe not yet’.

In a comparison between one ARC, where call failures were high versus another where they were low, the blog claimed that “while the use of NGN networks has grown in the last few years this cannot account for the increasing trend”.

As a potential compromise, the author also said that they could overcome any potential issues through the use of hybrid terminal adaptors (ATAs).

However, evidence both in the UK and Sweden plainly demonstrates call failures increase as the network switches to digital. This is caused by signalling corruptions and time delays introduced as analogue signals from the telecare units at home make their journey across hybrid analogue and digital networks, and then back again into the existing analogue alarm receiving centres.

Sweden, which is Europe’s leader in the delivery of digital TEC, also dismissed the adoption of ATAs in favour of a fully digital solution across over 150,000 deployments

Their experience must be considered now the UK telephony network is switching to digital.

In 2007 when Sweden was switching its phone network, there were multiple incidents reported where social alarms failed to connect to the NGN. The consequences of this were made clear when a 76-year-old man died when his social alarm failed to connect to the digital network via his analogue telephone line.

As a result, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority advised municipalities in Sweden that hybrid/analogue solutions, including ATAs, should be avoided, arguing that a fully digital telecare system is critical to ensure that alarm services are delivered, developed and function in a reliable manner for end-users.

Falkirk is a leading digital advocate and they foresaw that a more robust digital solution was needed. But with no clear options available in the UK, Communicare247 rose to their challenge by engaging with the local authority in the co-design of an award-winning, fully-digital cloud-based alarm receiving centre system.

Using existing TEC partners available from procurement body, Scotland Excel, the local authority now has almost 1,000 digitally-enabled TEC users. It is well on track for all of its 4,500 telecare users to be served by a fully digital TEC system by 2021, in what will be a UK first and aligned with the Scottish Government’s digital agenda.

The UK’s healthcare policy makers now have a clear decision to make: accept the use of ATAs within a hybrid analogue/digital solution or implement a proven, fully digital system that is both more robust and paves the way for future applications of tele-healthcare.

It is pleasing that the Scottish Local Government Digital Office, the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare (SCTT), and their independent consultants Farrpoint are aligned with the Swedish policy and does not support the use of hybrid solutions or ATA’s (Analogue to Digital Telecare).

I also welcome the recent report from Scottish Government, Scotland’s Digital Health and Care strategy, which confirms the direction of travel is to take a digital-first solution to the impending telecare problem.

The report also highlights the benefits of delivering a truly digital telecare system that maximises the opportunities the shift to digital provides, such as smart sensors and remote diagnostics. This is the only way that the promise of independent living for the elderly population in a cost-effective manner will be achieved.

The government’s commitment to digital telecare services in Scotland will deliver a reduction in delayed discharge from hospitals and ensure the elderly will be able to remain living independently in their homes for as long as possible.

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Call for urgent action on latest state of the NHS Providers report

By News, Uncategorised

Article published in Care Sector Hub.

A new report on the challenges facing the NHS and the provision of community services has revealed the urgent need for healthcare commissioners to invest in cost effective digital telecare services and applications. 

NHS Providers’ State of the provider sector report, entitled ‘Community services: taking centre stage’ confirmed that technology has enabled “multiple interventions” to be carried out in the home or in community settings, which is essential to the integrity of healthcare provision as the population ages. 

However, the report sets out how community services are struggling to meet demand as budgets decline. It further highlights that the majority (three quarters) of community care providers in England are worried that investment will fail to deliver services closer to home for patients in the next five years. 

Tom Morton, CEO of telecare specialist Communicare247, said digital telecare services which enable people to stay in their homes longer as well as save commissioners cash were essential to overcoming the community care crunch facing England.

He said: “We welcome the report from NHS Providers which sets out in stark terms the damage that the lack of adequate support for people in their homes can cause.

“According to the report, a person aged 80 who spends ten days in a hospital bed adds ten years of ageing to their muscles, which makes their ability to live independently that much harder. 

“Demographic trends for the UK population are undeniable. The NHS and community care commissioners must act now to ensure that robust systems of telecare and tele-healthcare that deliver improved patient outcomes are put into use. The report found that 91% of health care trusts expect the gap between funding and demand to widen significantly just in the next year. 

“Not only this, but there is an urgent issue facing telecare service providers as the UK telephone network switches to digital. Existing systems are at risk and need to be modernised to deal with future requirements as soon as possible.

“We urge commissioners to plan and invest now in digital and technology-enabled care services such as 24-7 mobile monitoring, digital pill dispensers and other ‘hospital@home’ support systems. These are available, tested and deliver improved patient outcomes by ensuring people can leave hospital and get the care they need at home.”

Digital telecare specialist warns switch off could lead to failure of home care systems

By Uncategorised

Social healthcare commissioners must move quickly to do adopt new telecare systems as the UK faces a switch-off in its analogue network, a specialist has said.

Current telecare systems that ensure the safety of people in their homes will soon be obsolete and local authorities in Dundee and across the UK need to adopt solutions to ensure these services remain robust, Tom Morton, CEO of digital telecare specialist Communicare247 said.

Speaking at the Dundee Smartcare Convention, Mr Morton highlighted that the analogue telecommunications system currently used to deliver telecare to around 5,900 users in Dundee and Tayside will be completely shut off by 2025 and replaced by a digital (IP) system.

He said: “Telecare and telehealth plays an increasingly important role in health and care yet it is threatened by disruption as UK telecommunications shift from analogue to digital.

“Not only this, but the number of people reliant on telecare in the UK is expected to treble by 2020. The current analogue system is already unsustainable, yet more and more people are expected to be reliant on these kinds of services as the population ages and they want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

“The vast majority of current telecare systems will need to be upgraded or decommissioned in order to maintain services to users. Conferences such as the Dundee Smartcare Convention are essential to ensure awareness is raised about this issue.”

The UK and Scotland is currently investigating the use of systems that will allow social healthcare providers to continue supporting an estimated 1.7million users of telecare in Britain. However, current proposals currently being developed in the UK are unlikely to offer the best solution to the problem caused by the switch to digital, Mr Morton said.

Mr Morton believes that analogue telephone adaptors (ATAs) – so called hybrid systems – currently being tested are not sufficiently robust and could lead to failures in UK telecare systems, causing undue risk for users.
He said: “BT has confirmed the shut off is starting this year and will be complete by 2025. Already the analogue system is unsustainable due to increasing demands.

“Current analogue services already report around 3% of failed call attempts between the home and response services, because they cannot communicate effectively over the new digital telephone network systems.

“The hybrid solutions currently being tested in the UK have been shown to have too high a failure rate in other countries like Sweden, where they have adopted fully digital telecare systems instead. We cannot allow people to be at risk because their home alarm system failed to work.

“Experts at Ofcom and the Scottish Government increasingly favour a fully digital solution which will ensure telecare systems are fail-proof and future-proof as new technologies in monitoring and support come into play.”

In Scotland, costs to ensure telecare services can still be delivered following the switch to digital are estimated to start at around £48million. However, Mr Morton said digital telecare services will be more cost effective for social care providers including Dundee City Council.

Mr Morton said: “Reports on deployment of digital telecare have shown the potential to create savings of between £3m to £7.8m for a typical council. This will be increasingly important for Scotland’s councils and the NHS which must cut hundreds of millions from health service budgets while dealing with significant growth in users due to demographics.”

Communicare247 recently won the Local Excellence Award at the at the Scotland Excel Supplier Excellence Awards, which recognised the work the company has done with Falkirk Council to address a national switchover from analogue to digital technology, provide better solutions and increase citizen choice.

Scotland Excel Local Excellence Award 2018

Digital telecare specialist honoured at Scotland Excel’s Supplier Excellence Awards

By Uncategorised

The following article was featured in Digit, Scotland’s Technology Media and Events Hub.

A Glasgow SME has scooped a prestigious award at the only awards programme in Scotland that recognises the achievements of local government suppliers.

Communicare247 was crowned winner in the Local Excellence category at the Scotland Excel Supplier Excellence Awards.

The company is a supplier on the Scotland Excel Telecare and Telehealth contract which helps Scottish councils support people with a wide range of needs and enable people to live independently.

Their Local Excellence Award recognised the work the company has done with Falkirk Council to address a national switchover from analogue to digital technology, provide better solutions and increase citizen choice.

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said: “We started off our company to highlight the advantages of digital technology in telecare and winning the award is one of the best ways to highlight that.

“We are so pleased that all our hard work delivering a telecare solution that is fit for purpose and fit for the future has been recognised as an example of excellence by Scotland’s leading public procurement partnership.

“Winning means a reward for the Communicare247 team. Not only that, it acknowledges the support of fantastic people at Falkirk Council and Scotland Excel, who helped us all the way through the procurement process. It is a massive journey – it is not something for a small business to take lightly.”

Julie Welsh, director of Scotland Excel, said: “Our suppliers play a vital role in supporting delivery of essential public services, and it is right and fitting that we recognise those that go the extra mile.

“Winning a Supplier Excellence Awards is a real accolade for the business community, as it’s the only awards programme in the country to recognise the achievements of local government suppliers. Competition was tough, and our expert judging panel had its work cut out.

“My congratulations go to Communicare247 for their good work and well-deserved success in these prestigious awards.”

Twelve businesses scooped awards at the glittering event in Glasgow’s Radisson Blu Hotel which was hosted by Dougie Vipond, and opened by Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution on Tuesday 20 February.

Warfare to welfare: digital ‘Freedom Devices’ targets growth

By Uncategorised

Article as featured in The Scotsman

A former Royal Navy electronics engineer is expanding his company that develops systems to monitor vulnerable people in their homes.

Tom Morton founded Communicare247 “from an attic in Dunoon” in 1998, having built up expertise in communications and electronic warfare with the Navy before moving on to set up a satellite ground station in Stranraer for the European Space Agency.

In the early 1990s, he moved into the mobile phone industry, working with the public and private sectors and helping to develop ways of transferring data over analogue networks.

“I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries, and my wife introduced me to a chap who was running an alarm-monitoring centre for the elderly,” Morton said.

“That’s where the seed was planted, and I started looking at better ways of delivering social care using mobile phones and emergency services responders. There were huge cultural and technological barriers, but I knew we could do this and make a change.”

Morton said he initially focused on care workers “lone workers” who were exposed to risks because they were working alone, and went on to gain the support of police. In 2009, his firm “took a big plunge” by investing £1.5 million in an alarm centre in Dunoon with support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the local council.

The centre is manned around the clock by Communicare247 staff, who help to monitor about 20,000 users, such as court bailiffs, forestry workers traffic wardens and NHS staff. Other clients include outsourcing giant Capita, Marie Curie and Stirling Council.

Communicare247, which employs 14 people, recently opened an office on St Vincent Street in Glasgow with a view to winning more clients and attracting more skilled staff.

Morton said: “The new base gives us more access to the skills that are available in Glasgow and an opportunity to really expand the business by engaging with our customers.”

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