“WE went to a lady whose foot was hanging off,” said Jack Sharp, manager of Swindon Council’s Homeline service.
“She had a compound fracture. It was just hanging on by a piece of skin.
“We leaned across her so she couldn’t see it, and we were speaking to her. She asked, ‘Have I hurt myself?’ There was no point in denying it, so we said to her, ‘You have some damage but we’ve called an ambulance.’ “We said, ‘You’ve got a cut on your foot.’ She said, ‘Can you stitch it up for me?’ I said, ‘We’re good, but we’re not that good...’ “She’s walking around again now. She might have a bit of a limp but she wouldn’t have survived if she hadn’t had the mechanism.”
And what mechanism is that?
Imagine an organisation that monitors whether you’re inside or outside; what medication you take and whether you’re taking it when you should; whether you’re upright or prone; whether you’re in or out of your chair or your bed and how long you spend away when you’re not in them; whether you’re moving around or still; whether your home is hotter or colder than it should be; and even whether there’s an unseen leak under your kitchen sink.
Imagine that if the organisation doesn’t like something picked up by its monitoring devices, or you fail to respond to its calls, men and women will be sent to your home in search of answers.
Orwellian nightmare? That rather depends on how steady you are on your feet, and how likely you are to get up uninjured or at all if you happen to trip on your way to the bathroom.
It depends on whether you want to live in your own home as independently as possible for as long as possible.
It depends on whether a loved one is so confused that they sometimes don’t quite know where or even when they are. There are many variables, and the 13-strong Homeline team is familiar with them all.
“We serve 5,500 people in and around Swindon,” said 54-year-old Jack, a former RAF member who joined the council in 1997.
“We look after them simply by putting equipment on their property and allowing them a mechanism to call somebody in times of emergency. It’s a mixture of people – a good proportion are council tenants and there are some people in private houses.
“We have 33 sheltered accommodation units that have a daytime sheltered housing officer, but at night the emergency response switches to us.
“We also look after sheltered accommodation belonging to private housing associations.”
Calls to the system’s switchboard come either from clients in person or automatically from the technology in their homes. Last year 6,089 were serious enough for a crew to be sent out, including 529 fallers. A total of 198 cases were serious enough for an ambulance to be summoned.
There are four levels of service according to clients’ wishes and needs. The basic Homeline service involves the familiar pendant-style alarm, which comes with a base unit and has a range of up to 100m. A client who falls or is otherwise immobilised can summon help by pushing a button.
Next comes Homeline Plus, formerly known as Telecare, with three levels of service depending on need and an array of potentially lifesaving devices.
Telecare support officer Nicola Woodruffe, 27, showed these off as proudly as Q demonstrating gadgets in a Bond film.
There are pendant and wristband fall detectors with sensors for tilt and impact, and bed occupancy detectors to turn on a bedside lamp when a client gets up to go to the bathroom or make a cup of tea – and raise the alarm if they’re not back within an agreed time.
There are similar devices for armchairs, and Nicola explained: “These are for people with poor mobility. They might fall as they go to pick up a tissue or something like that.”
There are pressure operated epileptic fit detectors programmed to pick up on the rhythmic movements of a fit; there are detectors for unusual heat and unusual cold; there are dose-by-dose pill dispensers and there are door sensors that raise the alarm when a confused client passes through.
The gadgets can be programmed to try to contact family members or carers before raising the alarm at Homeline headquarters, and for many families the service is a prayer answered.
Nicola said: “On several occasions I have been sat with a family who were at their absolute wits’ end, and they’ve looked at me and said, ‘We think we can cope now.’ I’ve had people crying on my shoulder with relief, knowing that they’re not alone anymore, that there’s somebody out there and that they do not have to go through the agony and stress of moving somebody into a care home who does not want to go.”