OU research to STRETCH the boundaries of supported homecare for older adults

Researchers at the OU have launched a million-pound research programme that will redefine homecare for older adults recovering from hospital treatment.

STRETCH (Socio-Technical Resilience for Enhancing Targeted Community Healthcare) aims to coordinate ‘circles’ of support for older adults. These include carers and medical professionals, relatives and neighbours, and the voluntary sector, and would be co-ordinated through the use of both wearable and smart home technologies.

We spoke to Academic Lead and Senior Lecturer in Computing at The Open University, Blaine Price, about the programme.

Senior Lecturer in Computing, Blaine Price

Senior Lecturer in Computing, Blaine Price

When is the official start of the research programme?

“STRETCH is due to start in April 2017 for three years. In the first few months, we will be meeting community health workers, GPs, hospital clinicians, and Age UK staff, carers and other community based non-medical staff who support older adults; this will provide the academics on the programme with a real understanding of what the requirements are for older adults.

“It is likely that, during the second and third years, we will be testing out the technologies with patients, professionals and the ‘circles’ of support around the patients.”

What challenges does the NHS face with older adults?

A major challenge for the NHS is the inability to discharge patients who are fit to return home because there isn’t enough support at home to help look after them.

“The impact is that it often causes A&E departments to be shut down and cancellation of elective surgeries, which creates the so-called ‘Black Alerts’.

“These patients often have ‘multiple co-morbidities’, that is, a number of different unrelated medical conditions. They may be well enough not to need hospital-level nursing care, but need some level of homecare; if this isn’t available, then they remain on the ward and the hospital has to turn people away.”

What is STRETCH aiming to achieve?

“The challenge for the STRETCH programme is to enable patients to return home and provide a level of monitoring during their recovery, both for medical staff and for the circles of support around the patient, re-assuring family members that their relative is doing well.

“The programme will also have a positive impact on the NHS, increasing the capacity to support older patients, while improving care by ensuring that medical professionals have timely and accurate information about the patients being treated.”

What other organisations are collaborating with the OU on the programme?

“The programme is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the academic team at the OU is continuing its longstanding collaboration with social psychologists at Exeter University, ensuring that STRETCH is suited to the specific requirements of older adults in their own environments.

“STRETCH is underpinned by work on other EPSRC-funded projects in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University, two examples being Privacy Dynamics and Monetize Me and we are also collaborating with Age UK Milton Keynes; Age UK Exeter; Exwick Health Centre; Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation; NEW Devon CCG.”