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Coronavirus: Government to give 11,000 iPads to care homes so residents can speak to families

Tablets will ‘stop spread of virus by reducing unnecessary visits’, say officials

Peter Stubley
Sunday 27 September 2020 00:41 BST
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A patient communicates with family on an iPad held by a member of NHS staff
A patient communicates with family on an iPad held by a member of NHS staff (AFP via Getty Images)
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Free iPads will be given to thousands of care homes to help residents keep in touch with relatives under government plans to prevent another surge in coronavirus deaths.

Up to 11,000 tablets are being made available at a total cost of £7.5 million amid fears the sector will be hit by a second wave of Covid-19 over the winter.

The giveaway was announced a week after the government's Adult Social Care Winter Plan set out tighter controls for visits to residents. Care homes in local lockdown areas will have to restrict access to "exceptional circumstances" only, such as when a person is nearing the end of their life.

It comes after the government was heavily criticised for failing to protect care homes during the height of the pandemic six months ago. Thousands of hospital patients were discharged into homes without being tested for Covid-19 in an attempt to free up beds, while staff reported shortages of protective equipment.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the iPads would “stop the spread of the virus by reducing unnecessary visits while still allowing residents to connect with friends and family”. They will also allow staff to access patient records, reorder medication and hold virtual consultations with GPs and other medical professionals.  

However each home will only be able to apply for one or two devices depending on their existing equipment and the number of beds.

The head of Care England, who has criticised ministers over the delays in setting up regular testing of staff and residents, welcomed the distribution of iPads.

Professor Martin Green OBE said: “Communicating with families and with other professionals is vital during this difficult period and we welcome the distribution of iPads, which should enable care providers to have better access to NHS support, and also enable people to keep in contact with their relatives.”

The government said iPads had been chosen because they are "the only tablet device that will enable care home staff to access their residents' summary care records".  

Priority will be given to the care homes most in need of the tablets - such as if they do not have full access to wifi. Officials claimed the devices will be "ready to use straight out of the box" and come equipped with a data-enabled SIM card.

Staff will be also able to use the iPads for "any other applications and tools that they feel support the care of their residents", officials said.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how challenging the current situation is for staff, residents and families, particularly when loved ones can’t visit.

“These tablets will be the gateway for so many residents to connect with loved ones, and allow staff to quickly access digital NHS services and information, to help stop Covid-19 outbreaks in their tracks.”

Mr Hancock has previously claimed that the government cast a "protective ring" around care homes from the start of the pandemic - despite statistics showing residents accounted for around a quarter of Covid-19 deaths.

Boris Johnson later appeared to blame care homes for the high numbers of deaths when he claimed they "didn't really follow the procedures". He refused to apologise for the remarks but said he takes "full responsibility for what happened."

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