First published in Welsh Housing Quarterly (WHQ) in October 2023, this Housing LIN guest blog by Vikki Hiscocks, Head of Research and Development at Pobl Group, talks through her experience with co-production to better deliver technology and housing with care services.
Dennis is 90 and lives at Llys Y Werin, one of Pobl Group’s extra care services in Swansea. He’s a former fitter, working for years on buses and lorries, but the heavy lifting and manual work has taken its toll and Dennis has osteoarthritis and trapped nerves.
He finds his limited mobility frustrating – it makes everyday tasks tricky, and this is something that care workers at Llys Y Werin flagged with our technology team. Dennis is proud of managing daily chores himself: making the food he likes, buying the shopping he wants and cleaning his home the way he prefers. Having choice and control is central to his wellbeing and physical health and we wanted to do everything we could to maintain that.
This is where my colleague Lynne Whistance, Pobl’s inclusion and assistive technology officer, steps in. Lynne is passionate about supporting people to be independent and live the lives they want and she’s also really creative about care. Her role connects our technology, care, repairs and housing management teams, and since September 2022, Lynne and I have been working on a project called TAPPI which has a similarly collaborative approach.
Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (TAPPI) is funded by Dunhill Medical Trust and led by the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN) and the TEC Services Association (TSA). It’s all about improving the way technology is used in housing and care for older people through ten practical principles.
One of those principles is co-production - sharing power and decision-making equally with people who draw on housing and care services. We knew that Dennis and other Llys Y Werin customers could benefit from technology, but we also knew they wouldn’t want devices imposed on them, procured by someone who might not know them or their interests.
Technology is still used in this way by many housing and care providers in Wales, without meaningful conversations with people like Dennis, who themselves are experts by experience.
Dennis is digitally literate; he uses a PC and smart phone, but his cataracts affect his eyesight, so a kindle or tablet isn’t for him. Classical music is his passion and that led Lynne to suggest a smart speaker which he can ask to play symphonies, make his shopping list and guide him as he cooks. TAPPI principles around being choice-led, person-centred and outcomes-focussed guided Lynne as she worked with Dennis and other Llys Y Werin customers to find the right technology for them. Many residents don’t have Dennis’ computer confidence, so TAPPI’s principle of being inclusive was key and we looked at ways to build digital engagement and skill amongst all customers.
Lynne is now looking at other technologies to aid Dennis’ mobility and respond to his changing needs. The TAPPI principle of adaptability has been invaluable here. Our aim is to support Dennis to stay as independent as possible, for as long as possible.
In fact, this is an ambition we have for all Pobl’s older customers. As the largest housing, care and support provider in Wales, we already use technology heavily, across different departments, in different ways. For example, in our care service alone we have IoT door passes, rostering systems, fall detectors, pendant alarms and much, much more. But TAPPI has prompted us to think holistically about our big tech picture.
How can we ensure the myriad of digital care used by our customers, staff and commissioners is interoperable? (Another TAPPI principle). We want to understand how a piece of technology like a fall detector could be enhanced by linking it to risk modelling software that analyses mobility and sleep data and then joining it up with a care planning system. Referrals to a physio, GP, occupational therapist or community exercise class could be put in place for people at risk of falling – all part of a preventative approach (another TAPPI principle).
But this bigger tech picture is wider than just Pobl’s care service. We want the whole to be greater than the parts when it comes to tech right across our business. That might mean joining up health and care data with energy performance records or humidity sensor readings. The connection between damp, mouldy, cold homes and health problems is well known. Having a macro view of customer health needs could help us prioritise maintenance and retrofit works.
We could also link health and care data to information on rent arrears or pre-payment energy metres. Health problems can increase the risk of customers falling behind on their rent or going into fuel poverty and joining the dots would help us put preventative support in place.
This integration piece goes beyond Pobl’s different departments, of course. TAPPI has made us think about how we can join forces with other housing, care and support providers, local authorities and health boards in Wales to co-ordinate the use of technology and data.
This won’t be easy. We don’t have England’s systemised approach led by integrated care systems (ICSs). In Wales there is scope to be much more collaborative and ambitious around digitisation in housing, care and health. Yes, organisations regularly run digital pilots, but these are often isolated and short lived - our big data and tech ecosystem remains fragmented.
I want to galvanise the sector so we can think more collaboratively around technology. Better integration and interoperability will improve the co-ordination of services, delivering better outcomes for people. It will enhance personalisation of care, allowing providers like Pobl and our customers to mix and match technologies according to needs and preferences.
Having a single point of data entry will minimise not just errors, but the number of times people have to tell their story.
Joining up our work in this area will also help with another TAPPI principle - being cost-effective. If care and housing providers can agree on consistent specifications for care technology, this will drive greater competition and better value. It will also increase alignment to high digital standards across the sector, such as keeping customers informed about how their data is used, and generally ensuring there is a firm focus on quality – the 10th and final TAPPI principle.
I’m excited about what the future holds for Pobl around technology-enabled care. TAPPI and the TAPPI principles have been a catalyst for digital transformation right across the business, shaping our 10-year vision and offering a new way of thinking about technology. But most importantly, it is helping us to start working co-productively to better meet the needs of our customers so they can live the lives they want to lead.
For more information on the TAPPI project visit https://www.housinglin.org.uk/TAPPI.
For other useful resources on assistive technology visit https://www.housinglin.org.uk/Topics/browse/loneliness-and-isolation/assistive-technology/