According to Radius Housing, one of the core principles of housing provision and other related services is supporting independent living and driving investment in communities.

Kevin McSorley, Head of Radius Connect24, discusses approaching assistive technology within housing services to support tenants and his hopes for the digital future.

The background

Radius Housing, in association with Tunstall Healthcare, provides housing, care and support to over 33,000 homes, and manages 12,500 properties in 80 towns across Northern Ireland.

The social enterprise employs over 1,000 people and its response centre, Radius Connect24, provides reassurance to around 20,000 customers.

Radius Housing provides both general and sheltered housing with telecare alarm services. It says that it’s always been important that service provision is ethical, sustainable and has tenant’s welfare and requirements at its heart.

Connect24 is an essential part of Radius Housing’s model of care, providing 24-hour support as the name suggests, technology is central to the way its services are delivered. It engages with thousands of people; around 10,000 living in sheltered housing, approximately 5,000 people pay for the service privately and over 3,000 have enhanced telecare funded by the local Health & Social Care Board as their care needs mean they require more than a basic telecare system.

Connect24 is often the first line of support for people who need help. This kind of low-level support can be invaluable in helping people to remain in their own homes and maintain tenures. The service provides help in an emergency, but also often signpost to other services, such as support for falls, dementia or frailty.

Additionally, Connect24 also tries to help unpaid carers, using technology to give them some respite and reduce burnout. It’s just as important for them that they know they have 24-hour support too, and a source of advice.

Becoming proactive

Radius Housing is trying to move to a more proactive and preventative model of care. The service helps to enable timely intervention, making sure the team can provide help where and when it’s needed most.

The service model has increasingly transformed from inbound to outbound calling. Something as simple as a wellness check call can identify any issues at any early stage and enhance the service user’s feeling of wellbeing.

During the pandemic, Connect24’s proactive calling service was invaluable to the people it supports, but this kind of regular contact is still beneficial as it informs engagement with clients and helps to meet their needs more effectively.

Kevin explains that from his view, this approach should become accepted as mainstream, and its value more widely recognised by commissioners.

He said: “The phrase health and social care is often used, but it’s sometimes forgotten that housing providers, and indeed technology, can play a key role in working across all of these services to provide more integrated support and upstream interventions, which can mitigate the effects of acute events and help to support wellness as much as responding to emergencies.”

Working together

Radius Housing believes the importance of co-production should not be forgotten. The move to digital is a big change, and to get it right service providers need to involve tenants and genuinely listen to their views to help everyone involved to navigate the cultural shift. For example, many tenants have been used to the traditional concept of scheme coordinators being onsite.

Changing the service model to become more agile by enabling some calls to be handled offsite can initially cause some apprehension, but Connect24’s experience is that the tenants are more than happy with this in practice because there’s no reduction in human interaction.

The service found if tenants and colleagues are presented the options and explore the potential of different approaches, they are very embracing of change. This means it can work together to empower its tenants and colleagues to make the most of a more digital future based around their needs and aspirations.

The future

It is possible that an increasing amount of people will choose to pay for their own technology support as it can give them more choice and control. Kevin said that the most important thing for the residents at Radius Housing is that the most important point for them is that the technology is simple to use and reliable, and as families move further away from each other, tech can help to connect people to one another.

Although there is an ageing demographic, the next generation of ‘older’ people will be “digital natives”.

The UK’s move from an analogue communications network to a digital one is also influential. It’s enabled the opportunity to audit technology estate’s and how it’s used to help create a comprehensive upgrade strategy that keeps robustness and reliability at the heart of what we do. It also recognises the potential for digital technology to enable service providers to better tailor services for individuals.

Radius Housing is in the process of upgrading its Connect24 monitoring centre platform to PNC IP to enable calls over the new digital network, and over the next three to four years it aims to have replaced all of its analogue Lifeline home hub devices with digital ones.

Dawn Watson from Tunstall Healthcare recently discussed why social care providers should engage with the possibility of integrating technology into the construction of buildings, including group and independent living settings, to protect and support vulnerable people through extreme weather.

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