A contract to provide community nurses who work alone in England with personal alarms is due to be signed in early May, according to the health service’s security chief.
Speaking at Unison’s annual healthcare conference last week, Richard Hampton, head of the NHS security management service (SMS), said the new alarms would be introduced in London before being rolled out to nurses across the rest of the country.
The contract finally fulfils a pledge first made by ministers three years ago. The idea of alarms for lone workers was originally put forward by former health secretary John Reid in March 2005 – and reiterated in September 2007 by current health secretary Alan Johnson.
The alarms look like security identity cards and hang on a lanyard around the wearer’s neck. Before a community nurse enters a patient’s house, they speak into the device and relay the name and address to a call centre, which triggers a monitoring process.
At this point the call centre goes to ‘amber alert’, which can be raised to ‘red alert’ should a violent situation arise by pressing a button on the device. Police and other authorities are then directed to the address by the call centre.
The devices do not use Global Position System (GPS) technology like that used in SatNav car systems. However they can be traced using their signal, which is similar to a mobile phone’s.
Alarms that use more expensive GPS technology are also available on the market – but Mr Hampton denied press claims that the non-GPS system had been bought because it was the cheapest. He said the mobile phone-style technology was ‘more appropriate’ as GPS devices do not work well indoors, where they are often unable to link with satellites used to calculate their position.
‘We chose the product first, then we settled on a price,’ he said. ‘The new devices can be traced using their signal. We will know exactly where they are.’
Cheryll Adams, lead professional officer for Unite/CPHVA, said: ‘Anything that improves the safety of lone workers is to be welcomed. The more easy it is to use the better, but it has to be able to be tracked.’
Details of the supplier of the product and the amount the contract is worth will be announced on 5 May, said Mr Hampton said.