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Care homes in England will be given iPads to help residents keep in touch with their loved ones and reduce the risk of loneliness as part of plans to ensure the social care sector is supported throughout winter.

Up to 11,000 iPad tablets, worth £7.5 million, will be distributed to thousands of care homes across England to support residents and staff, and reduce the risk of infection from people going into homes as coronavirus cases continue to rise, the UK Government has confirmed.

The iPads will also mean care home staff can easily access digital health services, including virtual appointments for residents when appropriate, to further reduce the risk of transmission from visitors.

Earlier this month, the government launched its Adult Social Care Winter Plan backed by a £546 million Infection Control Fund and the offer of free PPE for providers until March.

Each tablet device will be ready to use straight out of the box and include a 12-month support package and also, for care homes without full access to wifi, a data-enabled SIM card.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “With coronavirus cases rising the need for infection control measures and social distancing is more important than ever for those living and working in care homes. However I know how challenging the current situation is staff, residents and families, particularly when loved ones can’t visit.

“These tablets will be the gateway for so many residents to connect with loved ones, and allow staff to quickly access digital NHS services and information, to help stop Covid-19 outbreaks in their tracks.”

The tablet technology will enable residents to connect with loved ones, facilitate virtual consultations with medical professionals, easily organise face-to-face appointments, and allow easy reordering of medications.

The Adult Social Care Winter Plan set out tightened infection prevention and control measures to enable visits to continue safely where possible. Any area listed as an ‘area of intervention’ must immediately restrict visiting to exceptional circumstances only – such as for the end of someone’s life.

They will be prioritised for care homes that don’t have enough modern devices or struggle with their internet connection. The iPads come with a data-enabled SIM card.

According to the government, NHSX is working with local authorities, social care providers, and NHS regions to ensure that ahead of winter, care providers in England can access healthcare information and have the technology and digital tools they need to support their residents.

While the NHS will always make sure someone in care can see a clinician if necessary, the iPads will supplement face-to-face health appointments with video consultations where it is the right thing for an individual’s care needs.

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said: “Communicating with families and with other professionals is vital during this difficult period and we welcome the distribution of iPads, which should enable care providers to have better access to NHS support, and also enable people to keep in contact with their relatives.”

iPads, selected because they are the only tablet device that will enable care home staff to access their residents’ summary care records, will be prioritised and allocated to eligible care homes according to need and based on information provided by care homes when they apply.

The rollout of the iPads will be supported by new guidance to enable authorised and trained care staff to order regular medications on behalf of their care home residents online, reducing the administrative burden on staff across social care, general practice and pharmacy.

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