Disability Innovations: Smart technology pioneering independent living

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What’s the big idea?

Alcove is an all-in-one technology service to help elderly and disabled people to live independently in their own homes. It harnesses the wealth of technology already out there, from smart home sensors to wearable technologies, and combines them in one easy to use, comprehensive system. It is designed to enhance and improve delivery of existing care systems by helping all parties involved in care to be more connected and to use technology to enable independent living.

Alcove was created to address the major problems facing the adult care system in the UK. Existing solutions for the provision of care are not enough to respond to the growing problem in the supply of care. This, combined with increasing demand, shrinking budgets and changing legislation means that as it stands, today’s system is unable to deliver the type and standard of care we need and expect, now and in the future. Alcove’s approach is threefold: improve the system, reduce the costs, and promote increased independence, choice and control for their customers.

How does it work?

There are four parts to Alcove each with a range of functions which complement one another. They are: the Alcove Base Package, Alcove Wearable, Alcove Connection, and Alcove Carer Monitoring.

The Base Package part is the ‘smart home’ part of the pack. It is made up of a smart controller and a set of wireless sensors. These sensors detect motion, heat and light and can be used around the home, in rooms, on doors, on the fridge or the medicine cabinet. The technology in these sensors does not require any form of action or behaviour change by the user – they simply collect data on users’ key daily movements which they then report back to care workers or family members via a web-based app.

Mobile phone will alcove app on the screen

The app creates a ‘dashboard’ for each individual for use by family and professionals, which flags alerts and emergencies as well as listing alert history, behaviour summaries, and reminders. This can be used to detect and monitor and behavioural changes such as an increasing number of restless nights and can track if this is related to certain trigger events. It is also linked up to a care line monitoring centre for emergencies to enhance safeguarding and react to anything unusual or unexpected.

wireless box and keyfob, part of alcove wearableAlcove Wearable uses wearable technology in a watch to help the wearer remain connected to family and professionals. It’s a bit like a wearable mobile phone, but is designed to be as user-friendly and easy to use as possible. It can be used to make daily checks and give remote reminders, such as for appointments or medication, and can be used to make an emergency call or receive calls from approved numbers. The emergency alarm can be used 24/7 and connects the wearer with a monitoring centre.

Alcove Connection is a tablet which can be fixed in one place, and hooked up to a charger so that it is always on. It has a video and voice call functionality to help make communication with family and friends better and easier and reduce social isolation. Contacts can be personalised and important people or services, such as family members and support workers can be contacted at the touch of a button on screen. Like the watch, the tablet can be used to send reminders and for remote medication prompts, and can be used for visual checks via video link. It also can be used for telehealth remote consultations with care and healthcare professionals to help monitor long term conditions. It can also be used to monitor the quality of care, providers are delivering by gathering customer feedback on the care and treatment they receive from professionals during care visits and appointments. This can be particularly useful to monitor agency staff and flag any unsatisfactory performance against set objectives.

The final element is Alcove Carer monitoring, which is a wireless box designed for care workers and other professionals to ‘check in’ and ‘out’ during each care visit using a pass or key fob. This is designed to improve safeguarding and security, and ensure accountability, by recording who is where, when and for how long!

What makes Alcove different?

Alcove works to make life easier and improve outcomes for everyone involved in care, from individuals themselves, and their families, to care professionals and commissioners. It works to improve planning and efficiency around care and is driven by data. The data collected on behaviour and movement patterns allows staff to be more efficient and move from reactive to proactive interventions and smarter deployment of manpower.

Alcove also helps reduce demand on care workers by alerting informal carers first, alerting the care line monitoring and responder service only if informal carers do not respond or are unable to help. Increased efficiency and better organisation for staff ultimately means better outcomes for users, and their families. Better coordination of care and use of smart technology for medication and other reminders has reduced the workload of staff and frees up more face-to-face time, meaning they can direct more of their time to meaningful interventions. As well as this, with a comprehensive system of support in place, Alcove helps individuals to be more independent by giving them the confidence they need, knowing someone is always at the end of a phone (or watch) and less reliant on constant 1 to 1 supervision.

Aside from being a comprehensive system with tangible benefits for everyone, one of the best bits about Alcove is the price: it works out at £13, or less than the equivalent of one hour of home care a week. By doing things more efficiently and doing simple tasks remotely, it can generate significant savings for care and support providers.

What’s does the future hold for Alcove?

Alcove is still being worked on and developed and is currently being tested by individuals, organisations and care providers. The system has been tested in disability and elderly care services alike and has seen impressive outcomes. One residential centre for disabled adults is using Alcove to support sleep-in night workers, so they are only woken up if sensors detect a resident leaving their room or moving around. Night workers are now able to respond in around a minute, and it is predicted that using Alcove will result in a saving of around £30,000 a year for the care and support provider. Outcomes for care workers have proved equally positive, with the data collected by Alcove being used to adapt systems and improve efficiency. By checking in at care visits, professionals are able to demonstrate the average time a visit takes, and adjust timetables and scheduling accordingly if the standard 15 minute visit is not enough.

One year on since they were founded, Alcove have come a long way, and Alcove’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Hellen Bowey was recently named Public Sector Innovator of the Year, 2015, in the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) Enterprise awards. Alcove will launch and be made available on the open market by this summer and you can sign up on Alcove’s website to be the first to hear about it when it does, and find out more about how Alcove can help you.

What we like about it

Too often we come across innovations which are solely focused on money and reducing costs for commissioners. Important as this is, for the care sector in particular, ultimately it’s about people. What’s great about Alcove is that it is a cost cutting approach, but not at the expense of customers or quality. In fact it also helps to manage demand for staff and improve outcomes and care for individuals. By providing greater choice and focusing on aspirations as well as needs, Alcove is designed to help older and disabled adults to lead fulfilling lives in their own homes. Alcove is a win-win idea as it offers families peace of mind, and benefits professionals and commissioners at the same time, improving everyone’s quality of life!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

What we’re looking for in the 2015 Emergency Budget

On Wednesday the Chancellor will deliver his Emergency Budget before the House of Commons, presenting him with the opportunity to set the tone and underline the priorities for the Conservative Government in the new Parliament.

The Chancellor is expected to detail how the pledges set out in the Conservative manifesto will be brought into legislation in the coming months.

Scope will be following the announcements closely – so what can we expect to hear?

Meeting the extra costs of disability

Much of the pre-Budget analysis has focused on the Conservative plans to find £12bn of savings in welfare spending – with speculation that this could mean cutting or taxing disability benefits.

Life costs more if you are disabled. The extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on the living standards of disabled people, who spend an average of £550 per month on costs related to their disability. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are the payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.

The Government has repeatedly stressed that payments designed to tackle the extra costs of disability will continue to be protected in the new Parliament. The Chancellor stated it at Conservative Conference last year, the Prime Minister promised to ‘safeguard and enhance’ the value of PIP in the election campaign, and the Conservative manifesto confirmed it once again.

The extra costs of disability act as a taxation on disabled people and Scope wants to not only see the value of the payments protected, but ultimately enhanced so that the value is triple-locked in the same way that pensions are – rising by whichever is the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%.

Scope has worked extensively to highlight this issue over the last two years and we’ll be keeping a very close eye on what protection is afforded to extra costs payments on Wednesday.

Employment

It’s extremely welcome that the Government has committed to halving the disability employment gap, taking forward one of Scope’s key policy recommendations. Scope very much hopes that the Chancellor will reiterate this in his statement on Wednesday.

However, this commitment will be undermined if BBC News reports last Thursday on a leaked Whitehall memo about Government plans to reduce the value of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are accurate.

ESA provides the financial support that allows many disabled people to move into the workplace. With other government schemes such as the Work Programme failing to offer the personalised and tailored support that many disabled people need to get into work, reducing their incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. Instead, it will make life more difficult at a time when disabled people are already struggling to make ends meet.

The proposed changes to ESA must also be considered in the context of the news earlier in the year that the financial support provided through the Access to Work scheme will also be subject to capping.

Scope is strongly urging the Government not to cut access to this financial support but to instead look at what can be done to reform and improve its back to work schemes and make increased use of city and regional growth strategies – such as the newly-announced Northern Powerhouse – to better connect disabled people to employment opportunities.

Digital inclusion

Scope facilitated the Extra Costs Commission, a year-long independent inquiry into the extra costs of disability, with the final report published just last month.

One of the report’s key recommendations is the need to develop improved online access for disabled people. Twenty seven cent of disabled people have never used the internet, compared to eleven percent of non-disabled people. This prevents disabled people accessing appropriate financial products and getting some of the best deals on goods and services.

On Wednesday we’ll be listening out for any further announcements about the Government’s plans to address this critical issue.

Social care, integration and independent living

It’s expected that the Chancellor will use the Budget to highlight the progress of the Better Care Fund (BCF), and perhaps extend it. Scope welcomes the Fund’s potential to improve the integration of health and social care services and promote independent living for disabled people.

However, the scheme must work better for disabled people going forward. Only 14 of 91 the current local BCF Plans include schemes specifically aimed at disabled adults. This represents a missed opportunity, which any BCF extension and longer term vision on integration must address.

Furthermore, despite the announcement of increased funding for the health service, it remains critically important that this is matched with a sustainable future funding settlement for social care.

Visit our blog again after the budget to read our positions and analysis.