Home care moves into the 21st century

Gonna get digital, digital...

Gonna get digital, digital...

The elderly and sufferers of long-term illness could soon benefit from technology designed to help them live more independently.

Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, announced the introduction of several devices that can provide home care and help people monitor their condition.

Three teams in Cornwall, Kent and Newham are looking at how to make the best use of technology from various manufacturers with the help of £12m in funding.

Telehealth devices allow people to monitor conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.

A diabetic, for example, can test their glucose levels using a small machine. The results are monitored by health staff who will intervene if anything is amiss.

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Telecare devices can carry out tasks from simply switching lights on to raising the alarm if there is a problem.

If a person fails to return to bed in the middle of the night, for instance, health staff will be alerted to provide help.

The aim of the tech is to help people remain independent despite their illness - while also reducing the number of prescriptions dispensed, people admitted to care homes and A&E admissions.

Hewitt said new gadgets aren't just about specialist innovations in hospitals but about innovation at the front line of the NHS to help patients manage their conditions themselves.

In other news, the Department of Health (DoH) announced earlier this week that London's 21 NHS hospital trusts have completed the rollout of a digital X-ray system.

The Picture Archiving and Communications System (Pacs) allows X-ray and scan images to be stored and viewed electronically, replacing film and paper.

The tech is aimed at cutting costs and improving customer care. Hospitals using it have halved diagnosis times from six days to three, while waiting times have also been reduced.

The system is predicted to save around £6.2m for the 21 London Trusts in its first year of operation - £250,000 per hospital.

While visiting London's Royal Free hospital yesterday, Hewitt said the new system is helping doctors "do what they do best - treat patients faster and better".

Richard Granger, head of Connecting for Health - the DoH agency in charge of the NHS IT upgrade - said the National Programme for IT is not just about computers but about patients and supporting NHS staff to deliver the best possible patient care.

Across the UK, 92 trusts and 250 hospitals are currently using Pacs with the national rollout due to be completed by 2008.