Innovative ‘SHEILA’ app brings assistive technology to city residents

With the ever-growing presence of digital enhancements to make our lives easier, quicker or more efficient; gaining an understanding of what these developments mean for individuals locally is important to share knowledge and boost confidence.

Executive Director of Neighbourhoods at Sunderland City Council, Fiona Brown, and Portfolio Holder for Health and Social Care at Sunderland City Council, Councillor Dr Geoffrey Walker, offer their thoughts around Sunderland’s growing use of Assistive Technology (AT) as an enabler to help individuals to remain independent and safe at home with a more specific look at the initiative formerly known as ‘Sunderland Connected City Core’, now entitled SHEILA.

Sunderland’s ambitious City Plan has identified that we will continue to prioritise opportunities to utilise digital connectivity to improve the lives of our city’s residents.

As new technology continues to play a significant role in the delivery and support of community care services across the UK and the world, Sunderland’s digital ambitions drive the city forward to remain at the forefront of research and development around Assistive Technology (AT) and telehealth solutions.

To prove this concept, during 2018/19 Sunderland brought together a number of organisations to collaborate on the Internet of Things (IoT) national test bed pilot. The organisations included a wide variety of partners: Sunderland City Council, Sunderland Software Centre, the Digital Catapult North East and Tees Valley (NETV), health commissioners in Sunderland, the Local Government Association and NHS digital.

Fiona Brown explained: “The localised pilot pioneered the use of devices such as smart phones and motion sensors in vulnerable people’s homes, to help their carers and families make sure they were safe when left alone. Factors monitored included whether they were taking their medication and eating properly.”

The pilot programme developed a software platform, SHEILA (Social Health Enabling Independent Living App), which is a progressive web app. It has all the functionality and feel of an app on a care user’s phone, but the power of a website sitting behind it and is capable of being connected to a series of the sensors installed in homes. The connectivity relied primarily upon fixed and mobile broadband to link the software with the sensors.

Fiona continued: “The beauty of this intuitive piece of software is that the platform collates the data and presents it in a comprehensive user interface for family/informal carers or Council care providers to easily use and analyse.

“Additional functionality enables ‘push alerts’ such as SMS text alerts, which allow a family/informal carer to passively monitor the wellbeing of the vulnerable individual.”

Councillor Walker added: “This is unique in the Assistive Technology market – the specific functionality for supporting care providers and families/informal carers in their design and delivery of appropriate support is truly ground-breaking.

“As we strive to continuously improve support and opportunities for safe, independent living, this technology enables a more personalised approach to care needs as data derived from the smart software ensures the most appropriate package of services or care can be provided at an individualised level. This ensures the best possible outcomes regarding safety, independence and quality of life.”

Unlike other technologies, SHEILA can present historical data sets from multiple devices to any individual that the accessor has configured to be able to view. This historical data can be used to identify ongoing trends in an individual’s habits or schedule and support the design of appropriate support.

The pilot highlighted a number of benefits of taking the technology to the next level, and it was agreed that the use of AT in the delivery of care should be promoted across the health and social care community.

Key benefits and outcomes from the pilot and continuing work include an enhanced understanding of professionals in respect of the value of both AT and telecare, plus higher value placed on the telecare service by both professionals and customers.
Fiona added: “Already over 360 families across the city have been supported to access an AT solution to their problems. Having implemented the operational infrastructure, this will enable further rollout at scale of this smart technology and provide the basis for meeting the city plan target of supporting 1,500 residents to use smart technology to meet their care needs.”

Councillor Walker continued: “Establishing Assistive Technology as a recognised and trusted mechanism to support the delivery of both formal and informal care, represents a huge stride forward for healthcare provision across the city.

As we continue to explore the use of data, we can further leverage opportunities to influence proactive care and augment the wider community equipment offer for the benefit of individuals and their families.”

As numerous wider benefits of this approach become clear, discussions are already underway with organisations across the city in relation to how this service can be extended both in terms of access and functionality. Working in collaboration with Sunderland’s Smart City Programme and their plans to install City wide low-power wide-area network technology and IoT sensors will see huge opportunities and increased possibilities for improving the Assistive Technology offer.

It will remove the current barrier of clients having to have fixed or mobile broadband connectivity to benefit from this smart technology. And not only that, it would create the infrastructure to enable residents to use AT both inside and outside of the home to meet their care needs.

The improvements in quality of life, wellbeing and peace of mind for the families of service users as a direct result of the rollout of this scheme will bring comfort and safety to many across the city and beyond.