A lot of headlines have been generated recently about the UK’s 5G network, but amid the arguments about which tech firms should be allowed a stake, it would be very easy for all of that noise to overshadow the technology revolution that is currently taking place.
Ann Williams is a Commissioning and Contract Manager at Liverpool City Council. She leads the Innovation Network in Adult Services where 5G technology is currently being trialled.
One of the problems I am looking to solve is how do we provide telecare from 2025 when the analogue telephone lines get switched off. Just as we as a nation went from analogue television to digital television all telephone networks will be digital in 2025. This means the BT Landlines will become defunct.
The City currently provides over 6500 people with telecare equipment in their home to keep them safe and living independently. The potential cost of replacing the equipment and the ongoing data charges for SIM cards is prohibitive. This has led me to look at other ways we can benefit from the new technologies and keep our most vulnerable safe at an affordable cost.
Liverpool City Council has been a main partner in the Liverpool 5G consortium which has had £4.5m funding over the last 20 months from DCMS for the only Health and Social Care 5G test bed and trial in their 1st phase trials.
What is 5G?
5G is more than the next generation of mobile phone technologies. The international standards for 5G say it has to provide more than 1Gigabit per second of data (superfast), be able to transmit to many machines, this is usually called Internet of Things (IoT), and have low latency (a reliable constant signal). The DCMS trials have shown that the opportunities are endless, not just for mobile phones.
Technically to get the signal into buildings is a challenge — it is not just a case of larger masts (which the cellular companies are using), they also need millimetre nodes on street furniture. We have used the fibre from the CCTV network and taken it up lampposts and then used a mesh network of British made nodes. There are 220 British made nodes across Kensington which is the largest mesh network in Europe.
We have targeted Kensington as one of our poorest wards, where the life expectancy and the digital divide are inequalities we are trying to redress. We do not have a cellular 5G license (there are only 4 in the country) and we are not providing free Wi-Fi for general use. What we are providing is specific pieces of equipment to help people stay independent and live safely in their own home as well as working with partners in health to provide enhanced health care using this technology.
The opportunity to introduce a dedicated service specifically for health and social care is very attractive to the wider NHS on security grounds, but also the low latency means real time monitoring can be carried out in people’s homes direct to the doctor. The main attraction of what we have developed is that there are no ongoing data charges as the council will own the network, the network running costs are considerably less than the commercial data charges.
We have trialled 8 specific devices and 7 have been successful, we have targeted devices to:
· reduce loneliness,
· to help monitor people in their home and within a care home
· to use Virtual Reality within the Palliative care ward at the Royal Liverpool Hospital
· to monitor people taking medicines using 4K video
· to use a telehealth device to monitor peoples’ vital signs at home
The new health and social care technologies are going to use more and more data — such as the PAMAN device we have used to monitor medicine adherence which uses 4K video. By providing a network without any data charges we can introduce the latest technologies to all our citizens, not just those who have a high data broadband package.
There has been a small but voracious number of anti 5G campaigners but they don’t live in the local area. One Kensington resident is a great example of how utilising 5G technology within health and social care can be hugely beneficial:
74 year old Peggy has diabetes. She has volunteered to take part in the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care trial.
Peggy is using a technology called PAMAN Medihub. It connects her via a video link to qualified pharmacists, which means she doesn’t have to wait at home for district nurses to visit and administer the insulin she needs. It’s given Peggy more freedom to meet with friends. Managing her condition at home, long-term, means she’ll retain the skills she’ll need to live independently at home into her old age.
PAMAN helps her manage her condition more effectively too as she is freed up to take her insulin earlier in the day, which is important for her condition. Peggy now takes medication for diabetes and acid reflux in front of trained pharmacists, which is safer. She takes the medicine exactly as it is prescribed — the right dose, at the right time — which means she is less likely to spend time in hospital. That’s important as evidence shows people recover faster from illness at home.
Each PAMAN user receives a medicine review. This has reduced medicine error and wastage, a key driver for the NHS. In addition, the carers who used to visit Peggy twice a day, to give her insulin, can be redeployed into vital areas like mental health. The cost of employing a district nurse to visit twice a day is around £65.00, whilst PAMAN costs £6.50 a day.
Finding affordable, innovative alternatives to current health and social care solutions is important as people now live beyond 65 years with multiple health conditions. Funding is still scarce and the analogue health devices currently supporting older people switch off in 2020.
Peggy says: “I thought I’d give PAMAN a try because I was getting frustrated with having to wait in for my carer and district nurse to arrive each day. Now I get a call at the same time every day to take my medicine, which means I can arrange to go out to the shops and see my family without feeling tied to the house.
“I feel confident using PAMAN because the pharmacists that call me are always so polite and explain everything really well. My prescriptions were all over the place, but they helped me get everything into one blister pack and now I know what I’m taking and when. I don’t forget to take my medications anymore and I don’t feel like it’s a chore.”
She added: “My family were a bit surprised at first to see that I’d be using technology, but I showed them how simple it is to use. Other people should have a go at using these new technologies. There are probably loads of people out there with lots more medications than me, and using this kind of system makes everything really simple and easy.
“I’m not very good at technology but I can easily press a button which is all I have to do. I can just about work my TV remote! At my age, we don’t do technology really but it’s great to hear that Liverpool is the first place to be trying out these new things. It’s great how technology can really help people.”
Peggy is not alone. So far 300 other people have successfully used this technology. It’s a fast moving sector.