Around 1,400 care homes in Scotland will be able to apply for up to two iPads after a £1m government funding pledge was unveiled to support residents through the winter months. 

Care homes across the country will be entitled to receive the digital devices so residents can keep connected with friends and loved ones during lockdown, helping to reduce loneliness and isolation – and to support the clinical management of health conditions remotely.

From today, all care homes will be able to apply for up to two iPads to support their residents through combined Scottish Government funding from the Connecting Scotland programme, which has committed £500,000 to the initiative, on top of the £500,000 allocated in the Adult Social Care Winter Preparedness plan.

This follows a pilot project that provided digital devices to six care homes in Aberdeenshire to address digital exclusion, supported by Scottish Care, the Care Inspectorate and Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Digital devices can never replace human interaction and we continue both to actively review what more we can do to support visiting with input from family members, carers, and clinicians and finalise our plans for routine designated visitor testing. But the pandemic has shown us that digital technology can help keep us in touch with our loved ones and provide vital access to healthcare through services such as NearMe for video consultations.

“This fund will give care home residents an additional way to keep in touch with family and friends. Staying connected will be even more important as we approach winter, and the Scottish Government is committed to doing everything we can to prepare and support care home residents and the staff who look after them.”

Dr Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive of Scottish Care said: “The funding which has been announced by the Cabinet Secretary will help to improve connection for many. We hope that it is the start of an increased recognition of the critical contribution of technology in the care home sector and that we will see an enhanced commitment to the appropriate use of technology and digital in social care as a whole.”

Isla Cowe, acting care home manager at Allachburn Care Home in Aboyne said: “Many of our residents have really embraced this new technology and are delighted to be in regular contact with their loved ones. It really makes the difference to their general wellbeing and they don’t feel such a sense of loss at being unable to have the physical contact with their families at this time.

“Having the Near Me technology has proved so useful in reducing the number of people who need to visit whilst still being able to provide the same level of service that our residents and their families would expect. We recently had a consultation using this technology with the Speech and Language Therapy team, and were able to change the course of action to be taken for this particular gentleman which has proved immensely beneficial to the care that we deliver to him.”

Connecting Scotland is a Scottish Government programme set up in response to coronavirus to provide digital devices and support to develop digital skills for people who are digitally excluded and on low incomes.

The government will also publish a ‘Digital in Care Homes Action Plan’ to ensure residents and staff in our care homes can benefit from a range of digital tools and approaches and it will make NHS email accounts available to all Care Homes to provide greater communication and integration of services.

It will look to build upon the success of the use of Near Me video consulting by extending its uptake into social care and care homes. Furthermore, a digital tool will be rolled out to support people with Covid-19 and its longer term effects to help them manage their condition from home or a homely setting and a clinical assessment tool to enable an early diagnosis of the virus for care home residents following initial testing.

Technology and digital support was outlined as one of three delivery mechanisms contained in a new Adult Social Care Winter Preparedness Plan 2020-21 alongside ‘communication, cohesion and collaboration’ and ‘financial commitments’.

The Scottish Government has allocated a total of £150 million this year for social care as part of its additional Covid-19 funding to help the social care sector deal with the financial implications of the pandemic.