Suffolk: Pioneering TV link-up connects older people in rural communities

Dr John Havard

Dr John Havard - Credit: Archant

Technology allowing isolated older people face-to-face engagement with others through their televisions has been successfully piloted in Suffolk.

A group of East Suffolk residents helped trial Facelook by communicating with British Red Cross volunteers, friends and family via a TelyHD set-top box and broadband.

Using “Skype-like” technology with televisions rather than computers, the project has been pioneered by Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), British Red Cross and BT in an effort to address increasing levels of isolation among older people in rural communities.

The CCG provided £50,000 of Transformation Funding for the trail to be carried out with people aged 75 and over.

A smartphone application devised by Saxmunham developer Appdragon also gives users a way to connect instantly.

Dr John Havard, a GP based at Saxmundham Health and chair of the Locality Group leading the project, said: “It can allow people to go straight through to an elderly relative. It answers automatically after five rings so a remote control is not necessarily required.

“This has been a pilot study but it has shown us what could be done. On the back of this we could provide telecare for people or even monitor electricity usage, allowing older people to stay in their homes for longer. It may sound a bit like Big Brother, but having this can make people actually feel more comfortable.”

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Mr Havard thinks it should be possible to even beam church services, WI meetings or school events into local homes of people who can no longer get out.