In a frank item in its Yorkshire HQ’s local paper, Tunstall’s chief executive, James Buckley, revealed that up to 70 of its 550 UK-based staff will lose their jobs following a slump in sales. The company is working all its Parliamentary connections to lobby for further Government intervention to encourage councils and primary care trusts to continue the spending initiated by the Preventative Technology Grant (PTG), of which Tunstall has been a major beneficiary. Yorkshire Post item.
Comment: While all Telecare Aware readers will feel sympathy for the people that Tunstall has already made redundant this year, and the additional people about to lose their jobs, there will be readers wondering why Tunstall has found a post-PTG sales slump such a surprise when many could see the emerging signs of it as long as two years ago. (See “Telecare Soapbox: What’s wrong with the UK’s model of telecare?” September 2007.)
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Let’s hope that these redundancies aren’t in any of the areas of research, new product development or market promotion which are the easy targets for companies (or their owners) who think only about today’s bottom line. If Tunstall stops trying to grow the overall market and, instead, focuses on winning a higher percentage share of the market, then this may crush their competitors in the short term but will very quickly eliminate any technology lead that they currently enjoy. Within a few years, telecare in the UK will be dominated by foreign companies whose products don’t fit in with the model of health and social care that we enjoy. Telecare will be yet another area of technology which the UK invented but failed to exploit.
There are some good, state-of-the-art products available now. What is lacking is a general understanding about how to apply them sustainably in transformed, integrated, community-based services. All too often telecare is an afterthought, bolted on to traditional vanilla care services, rather than the first thought around which highly personalised services can be built. The leading providers have played their part in stagnating the demand for assistive products because they have adopted box-shifting strategies in response to the PTG instead of value-added, integrated solutions. For as long as assitive technology in many care organisations is confined to one or two enthusiasts – or designated OTs – rather than promoted as an essential item in every care professional’s toolbox, it will not deliver to its full potential.
The current plateauing of demand is in part due to the early focus on technology and ‘what it can do’. This needs to turn around so that the technology is seen as an integrated part of the solution to ‘what this person needs’. It may then have some hope of becoming an automatic consideration in the assessment process, rather than something which has to push its way in as ‘the answer’. It may need a change in marketing strategy by the technology sellers.