How Suffolk County Council is using new digital care technology to keep families connected during the pandemic


By Councillor Rebecca Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, Suffolk County Council.

Whether grappling with the rules of lockdown, adjusting to working or educating from home, or dealing with the mental pain of social separation from friends and family; The current global pandemic is certainly having a profound impact on families across Suffolk. These impacts have been particularly felt by the elderly or vulnerable. In this article I want to share how staff at Suffolk County Council moved quickly, in just 16 weeks from start to delivery, to maintain connections for hundreds of people facing potential social isolation.

Working alongside care technology specialists, Alcove and Rethink Partners, the council has delivered over 750 Carephone devices to elderly and vulnerable people, both in and outside of formal care settings, to help them, their families and care providers stay in touch during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Carephone service is provided through the Alcove Video Carephone, a simple communication device that allows people with little or no technological ability to have two-way video contact with care workers, family members and other approved service providers. The project also worked to deliver comprehensive training to both the user and their care providers on how to get the most use from this new technology.

One of the best parts of this project for me is hearing the real-life stories of how this program has revolutionised and strengthened connections for people who need support. My favourite is the story of Jeni, an 83-year-old retired teacher who lives in Bury St Edmunds.

Speaking about her experience using her new Carephone Jeni said:

“The other day it was such a thrill as my niece showed me her granddaughter - who is just over a year old - she walked straight across the room and I saw her on the screen. It was really lovely to see her. It was the first time she had walked, and they gave me a call straight away so I could see her do it. I have only ever seen her in person once before, so it was such a pleasure.”

It's so wonderful to know that we were able to allow that special, once in a lifetime moment to be shared with Jeni, and not lost to her forever.

Suffolk Virtual Care Response Service Jeni

Suffolk Virtual Care Response Service Jeni

This technology is helping to keep families connected, easing the pain of separation that everyone has felt at some point since the pandemic started. It also provides essential welfare reassurance for the family and is helping to reduce incidents of poor mental health on both sides of the call.

The project has also indicated that this technology can have a positive measurable impact on the devastating effects of loneliness in older and vulnerable people. It has also helped to maintain and enhance the communication chain between care giver and care receiver. The benefits of this project continue to be felt and I’m confident that it will continue to provide the council with further insight about how we can use this and other technology to improve care outcomes.

Whilst those that need face-to-face care have of course continued to receive that level of care, this kind of digital enablement project is absolutely vital for the future of care delivery across the UK. We must not underestimate the positive benefits of just being able to speak to family members, care givers and support networks when needed.

Maintaining real connections with others is so vital for the mental and emotional wellbeing of residents and their families. I hope we will continue to see initiatives like this, and I am pleased that the Carephone project is already having a positive impact this winter, especially now with the new set of national restrictions in place.

My thanks for the overwhelming success of this project goes to the all the staff at Suffolk County Council, our fantastic care providers, and voluntary and health partners. Thank you all for working so hard and so quickly to provide this vital lifeline to families across Suffolk.

If you think you or someone you know would be eligible and benefit from a Carephone, or to read more real life stories about how Carephones have worked go to Suffolk Virtual Care Response Service.

Download infographic that explains about Suffolk Virtual Care Response Service is being delivered (PDF, 1MB).