Pictured: The new digital-ready MECS box.
When telecommunication providers announced all analogue lines in the UK would be turned off by 2025, an alarm bell started ringing in the heads of Ian Whitelaw and Pauline Waddell.
With one of our lifesaving services reliant on analogue telephone lines, they immediately understood the impact this would have on the Mobile Emergency Care Service (MECS), which currently helps 4000 vulnerable people live independently at home.
Ian, the former Team Leader for the Contact Centre through which MECS operates, and Pauline, Team Manager MECS, decided something had to be done. Together they formed the Council of the Future Analogue to Digital Telecare project.
Analogue to Digital Telecare is one of 23 Council of the Future projects that aim to modernise and improve services and help deliver on our three corporate priorities – Communities, Enterprise, and Innovation – as well as our digital strategy, Digital Falkirk.
The initial goal of the project was to upgrade telecare software and hardware. By close of play 2020, the team had ensured MECS was ready to start migrating service users to a fully digital telecare service that was safe and secure.
Their achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ian and Pauline are regularly asked to share knowledge with other Scottish and UK councils, international partners, and the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government.
In January, Falkirk Council and the Health & Social Care Partnership received the Silver Digital Telecare Implementation Award in recognition of the progress made in the transition to digital telecare.
Ian Whitelaw, Analogue to Digital Telecare Project Manager, and CCTV/Digital Alarms Hub, Business Lead, said:
"We are leaders in our field. There's no best practice for digital telecare transition. We've had to develop how to do this on our own, and what we’ve achieved is game-changing."
A seamless connection
Traditionally, the MECS alarm system would connect to an alarm receiving centre (ARC) via a telephone line. If a service user needed assistance, a personal alarm or sensor in their home would raise the alarm. Help would then be sent.
But operational and functional issues were on the rise because analogue systems were no longer being maintained by network providers.
In 2017 the project team started working with the Council’s ICT Team, Larbert-based social enterprise Haven Enterprise, and alarm provider Doro Care, to replace thousands of analogue alarm systems in people’s homes with pre-programmed digital-ready ones. In March last year, 4000 had been installed.
At the same time, the team worked with Chubb Systems to develop and install a digital ARC that would provide call handlers with immediate and secure information on each alarm call while also continuously checking connections with alarm devices, instantly detecting and responding to a problem if one occurs.
Pauline said: "Installing digital-ready alarm systems means we can continue to offer our current telecare service while migrating MECS users to an end-to-end digital telecare service. We hope that transition will be complete by the end of this year.
"We'll then look to build on our digital ambitions, offering new choices and services that will help service users feel safer and ultimately allow them to lead independent lives for as long as possible.
"Making it happen has been a team effort across services, but the scale of progress wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of our care staff within MECS. They helped identify problems and improvements and underwent extensive training, which they’ve taken in their stride."