Hampshire County Council: pushing the boundaries by using Amazon Echo

Hampshire County Council has made assistive technology a mainstream part of its adult social care work. The approach has helped it achieve substantial savings with 100 new referrals being made each week into the service. It is also not afraid to innovate, becoming the first local authority to use Amazon Echo to help residents.

Digitalisation

By 2020, it is predicted 28 per cent of the population in Hampshire will be over the age of 65. A third will have dementia, while one in eight households will be occupied by a pensioner living alone.

That presents a major challenge to the county council, especially with finances becoming ever more stretched. Making greater use of care technology was identified as a way of both saving money and providing valuable support to residents. However, back in 2012 it was rarely used.

The solution

Four years ago, Hampshire entered a partnership with PA Argenti, a consortium led by PA Consulting, to make greater use of assistive care technology.

Together they co-created a new service where care technology became a mainstream part of the work of social care teams with both older adults and younger adults with disabilities. PA Argenti work directly with care managers to help incorporate technologies including alarms, sensors and medication reminders into the care packages they provide.

The alarms are worn around the neck or wrist and are linked to a 24/7 monitoring centre. There are also fall detectors and epilepsy sensors that can automatically trigger support.

As the service has developed, so more technologies have been added.

These include GPS tracking technology for people with dementia who have a tendency to wander away from home.

PA Argenti and the county council have also partnered with the charity, My Life Films, to pilot the use of biographical films as reminiscence therapy for people with dementia.

Anyone referred to the service, or who approaches it for help, is provided with an assessment to identify if they would benefit, and then a tailored package is developed for them. The county council covers the costs for some people, while others self-fund.

The impact

Over 9,000 people are currently benefiting from assistive technology, with 100 new referrals being made each week.

In client surveys, 94 per cent say care technology has “increased their feelings of safety and security” and 98 per cent would recommend the service to others.

In addition to the improved quality of life, the partnership saved the county council over £7 million net of contract costs in the first three-and-a-half years in terms of reduced reliance on non-personal domiciliary care, delayed admission to residential settings and reduced carer burnout. Director of Adults’ Health and Care Graham Allen says the success has “exceeded expectations”. 

“This work has enabled us to achieve significant and evidenced financial benefits, with a service that users love, and that offers significant personal benefit to them and their loved ones.

“Care technology is working at scale now in Hampshire to address challenges and provide support on a range of issues as diverse as dementia, autism, social isolation, as well as supporting people with learning disabilities and disabled children.

“Argenti’s enthusiasm and inventiveness has helped us to deliver a service that both transforms lives, and enables our limited financial resources to go further.”

Lessons learned

The partnership has been carefully structured so that there is a payment by results component to the contract. PA Argenti is paid based on a number of qualitative and quantitative, outcome-focused key performance indicators.

These indicators focus, among other things, on service user satisfaction, care practitioner satisfaction and the council’s financial savings requirement.

How is this approach being sustained? Hampshire County Council and PA Argenti are always looking at new ways to harness the power of technology. This has seen the partnership expand its remit into a number of new areas.

Last year, video conferencing and tablets started being trialled with socially isolated individuals to connect them with family, friends and volunteers.

Now, the county council has become the first local authority to start working with Amazon in a trial using a customised version of their Echo device to support people to live independently.

The Amazon Echo is a voice-activated home speaker with wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity powered by Alexa software. Echo users can add new skills to the device and then simply “ask Alexa” to remind them to take medication or check whether their carer is due to arrive. This pilot will be trialled with 50 clients in early 2018.

Steve Carefull, PA Argenti programme director, says the project is just the latest example of the “industry leading” work with which the partnership is involved.

“We are proud to be working with one of the biggest household names. This technology can complement support from human carers and help ensure resources are focused on supporting those with the greatest needs.” 

Contact

mark.allen@hants.gov.uk