NHS Western Isles will put robots in the homes of people with dementia as part of a pilot scheme to keep them at home for longer.

The trust is trialling the ‘Giraff’ as part of a European Union project called ‘Remodem’.

The project aims to create an integrated service package for people with dementia in rural areas.

The trust’s IT director, Jon Harris, told EHI that the motorised robot has a built-in camera, speaker and microphone, which means family members can check up on and speak with their loved ones from afar.

The Giraff can be controlled remotely via a PC or laptop.

“When it first came in we said it looked like ‘Skype on a stick’, but it can do so much more than that. If I was in Glasgow and my parents were up here, I could do a virtual visit to see how they were doing, “he said.

“It’s a really interesting gadget and it has huge promise in terms of what it can do. You can also check on the state of the house and what it looks like, to see how the person is coping.”

The pilot, which is the first in Scotland, is still in the early stages and Harris said the trust is still evaluating the software.

“We haven’t put the Giraff out anywhere yet, we’re having a look at the technology to see and understand it before installing it somewhere,” he said.

“Now we’re looking to identify patients who would benefit from it. We’re looking at people that are in quite early stages of dementia so it won’t be unsettling for them to have a robot in their home."

He added the robot has been used in care homes in Australia with great success, but the trust would most likely look at placing it in a patient’s home.

“What we’re looking at is ways of using technology to sustain people at home for longer and to improve their quality of life,” he said.

“Of course people got a bit rattled by the idea of putting kit in their home. But it’s about doing something over and above standard care. It’s more of a supplement and it’s meant to come on top of the normal care package. “

Harris added that in the Western Isles, which covers 15 islands, stretching over 130 miles, remote working was key.

“We are convinced that the only way we can make healthcare sustainable is through the use of technology.”

The trust is also looking at different ways of remote working, such as remote ward rounds using iPads.