“How the Internet of Things is Saving Lives”
Covid: the catalyst for finding a new way to keep vulnerable residents safe
When the pandemic hit, local authorities faced huge challenges in keeping vulnerable residents safe. Social distancing limited their ability to make visits and affected the willingness of residents to allow people into their homes. Faced with concerns that the health of vulnerable people could be declining without any safeguard, Sutton Council’s social housing provider – Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) – decided to find a new solution which has already resulted in four lives being saved and numerous positive interventions to support independent living.
A new, intelligent, approach to the Internet of Things (IoT) topic
Sutton Council collaborates with four other London Boroughs as part of the South London Partnership (SLP). Back in 2018, the SLP recognised that technology could be a powerful ally in helping understand the facts behind many of the problems faced by local authorities. They secured funding to develop an IoT programme which would focus on addressing real world problems using data and insights gained from IoT sensors deployed around various locations.
As the scale of the programme grew, the decision was made to expand the scope to include building a brand new IoT data platform. This would overlay data in ways not previously possible and give the potential for profound insights by breaking the data silos within the local authority community. It would also allow data to be more widely available to the public.
The elements that the solution needed
SHP investigated how they could use the data from IoT sensors to provide an early warning when vulnerable residents’ health declined. The solution needed to be affordable, simple, scalable and deployable without human contact (due to social-distancing rules at the time).
Sensors would need to go into resident’s homes – ideally, being put in place by residents themselves. The sensors required a sustainable power source that could last 3-5 years, and they needed to be maintenance free. A battery powered sensor was developed in conjunction with the winning bidder, IoT Solutions Group.
Crucially the sensors needed to transmit data reliably. Recognising that some vulnerable residents didn’t have internet or Wi-Fi, the decision was made to use Vodafone’s Narrowband IoT (NBIoT) technology. This ensured comprehensive coverage and NBIoT was proven to work in concrete and steel rich buildings which often hinder mobile signals.
Security was of paramount importance due to the sensitive data that would be collected. There was also trepidation about residents allowing a device into their home which tracked behaviour. It was, therefore, important to reassure candidates that the system didn’t capture or store any unnecessary personal data and that it complied with UK data regulations – including getting consent from residents (in line with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 when appropriate). There would also be no need for invasive cameras or microphones.
Once in place, the sensors could just be forgotten. No user-interaction was needed – unlike with many telecare devices which need to be proactively triggered by their wearer.
How does the system keep residents safe?
A sensor is placed in the kitchen of a vulnerable resident. As they go about their daily business, doing things like boiling a kettle, opening the fridge, shutting a window or adjusting the heating, the sensor monitors environmental factors and transmits the information wirelessly to the platform. Initially there’s a 4 day learning period as the system assesses significant behaviour patterns, although this can be as quick as 36 hours for (often elderly) residents who have very routine habits. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology can then determine what normal activity looks like in the setting.
Then, by continuous monitoring, the same technology establishes deviations from normal patterns and calculates the severity of the situation. Email and text alerts are generated containing an urgency status – these are sent to the people responsible for the individual’s care. Further information can be found by logging onto a dashboard which helps carers determine what type of assistance is needed at the location. The system integrates with other telecare systems to provide further emergency assistance to the residents in their homes. Equally, the system informs SHP staff when all is well so that Independent Living Officers (ILO’s) can focus their attention on more pressing matters.
How have vulnerable residents reacted to the new technology?
To date, around 130 homes have had sensors installed since February 2021 and recipients have been overwhelmingly positive and grateful with many citing an improved sense of security.
One resident, Maureen, explained that her willingness to trial the technology came from seeing the benefits it gave her. And, as it turns out, these couldn’t have been more significant. One day, when Maureen had briefly taken off her telecare pendant, she fell badly and ended up immobile and helpless. The IoT system noticed a change in her activity and triggered an emergency response from her telecare provider (Careium). They arrived and stayed with Maureen until emergency services could attend.
What other benefits has trialling this system created?
- Vulnerable residents are reassured that any decline in their health will be noticed sooner; so regardless of whether they have mobility issues, learning difficulties or an underlying heart condition, they’ll be safer in their home with this technology. 10% of vulnerable residents don’t receive regular care visits and these people will be notably safer with this system in place if their health deteriorates.
- Residents who stopped consuming hot food and drink in winter now receive meals on wheels.
- ILOs can investigate cases of extreme heat inside a property or suspected fuel poverty by having an informed conversation with residents to establish the cause of the issue e.g. whether the heating needs fixing or it’s a case of financial hardship which may require a grant.
- There’s a reduced pressure on local authority teams such as hospital admissions as early intervention reduces emergency situations.
Where does the technology need to go from here?
SHP has been at the forefront of this initiative, constantly working with adult care staff, housing partnerships and ILOs to optimise the product. Now, other local authorities are joining in and using the refined technology themselves. Kingston and Richmond have adopted the system and are additionally using it as an environmental monitoring system where it picks up issues such as damp and mould in people’s homes.
The statistics speak for themselves. In just two years in a limited test environment – four lives have been saved, one nutrition and hydration alert was triggered and 22 fuel poverty concerns have been flagged. The power of this technology is only just starting to be realised.
Find out more
If you would like to have a conversation about how this technology could help your vulnerable residents, please contact Andrew Parsons firstname.lastname@example.org or Pierre Venter email@example.com.
Many local authorities have started to implement IoT systems for a number of reasons. Our approach
is to work with our residents and businesses to turn challenges into opportunities for improvement.
If you have some feedback or an idea of how we can improve our services through the use of IoT technology,
we’d love to hear from you. Email Andrew Parsons or Pierre Venter to share your thoughts.
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