A minority of councils in England are starting to put plans in place for telecare services but most have made few or no preparations, according to survey.

The survey results are based on a questionnaire about telecare circulated by independent consultancy, the Telecare Alliance, to the 150 councils in England with responsibility for social services.

Responses came from 56 (37%) of the councils and an initial analysis of the figures showed that eight (14%) had completed a telecare strategy or plan; 28 (50%) had a telecare strategy or plan under development; 19 (34%) had not started but intended to do so soon and only one (2%) had no current plans to develop a telecare strategy.

However, the researchers say that the 94 ‘non-responders’ were followed up twice and the results suggest that telecare preparations had not been progressed by October 2005 in these non-responding areas.

Overall, the alliance concludes that only a quarter of the total number of councils have put in place plans to introduce telecare and, of those, most have not considered the strategic issues in a comprehensive way.

“The most hopeful view is that the glass is a quarter full and filling, albeit not as quickly as the topic deserves,” says the alliance.

The alliance’s report points out that there is only six months to go before the Department of Health makes available the new Preventative Technologies Grants, worth a total of £80m over two years. These are intended to enable councils to start providing telecare services to support people with a variety of needs in their own homes.

The grants will support the Department of Health’s strategy, Building Telecare in England  published earlier this year.

Feedback from councils revealed some of the issues telecare raises for services considering its introduction. Comments included:

  • “Users are finding it difficult to identify desired [quality] goals, it’s new tech so they do not have clear views. Equally, we are struggling a bit. We think we can reduce events by telecare but this is proving hard to estimate, so we are taking a broad approach to test outcomes.”
  • “The literature is low on specifics and evidence. Money is very tight so savings are required to pay for costs. Targeting is essential, but we have to pilot first to identify the effective ones.”
  • “Policy and service development is, in some instances, extremely difficult to progress as quickly as we would wish due to the simultaneous local authority, internal and PCT restructuring.”

Steve Hards, director of the Telecare Alliance commented: “The significance of the survey results is that councils are running the risk of failing to start to realise the benefits of telecare before the grant finishes in 2008.

“The service changes that will be needed take time but it is widely known that the longer that the implementation of any change programme drags on, the more likely it is that the benefits will not be achieved. These survey results are a call to action for everyone in councils who are in a position to get things moving.”

He told E-Health Insider that since the survey was completed in October, one of the councils that had only reported intentions to start work on telecare plans had called back to say that say lots of developments were happening.

"The counterbalance is that I’ve also had an e-mail today from one of the manufacturers that says this [survey] bears out their impressions."