Agenda item

To inform the Audit Committee of the recovery actions taken by Tendring Careline after an improvement notice was issued by the TEC Services Association at its last audit of the service.


The Committee considered a report of the Assistant Director (Partnerships) (report A.3) which informed it of the recovery actions taken by Tendring Careline after an improvement notice had been issued by the Technology Enabled Care Services Association (TSA) following their last audit of the Careline service operated by this Council.


Members were informed that Tendring Careline had been established in 1987 and had been a member of the TSA since 2010. That organisation was the national body of carelines across the UK and, although membership was not mandatory, it offered the most widely recognised accreditation for the telecare industry. Membership of the TSA also included the equipment suppliers used by carelines. The Tendring Careline had been accredited by the TSA since 2012.  In order to be accredited, each Careline service must pass an annual audit by the TSA in which 13 modules were assessed. In September 2021 this Council’s Careline service had been found to be compliant in 12 of those modules but had been issued with an improvement notice for the thirteenth, namely, Technology Enabled Care Monitoring. The full audit report was attached at Appendix A to the Officer report.


It was reported that the Technology Enabled Care Monitoring module within the TSA audit was an assessment of how quickly incoming calls to Tendring Careline were handled by the Control Centre Operators. In order to be passed as compliant the Careline staff should answer 97.5% of all calls within 60 seconds and, in any event, 99% of all calls within 180 seconds. The September 2021 audit of Tendring Careline had found that: ‘KPI’s for calls answered within 60 seconds have only been achieved for 2 months out of the last 18 months. KPI’s for calls answered within 180 seconds have been missed 6 times in the last 18 months’.


Officers felt that there were mitigating circumstances for those statistics. Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic had had a great impact on staff resources. Between April 2020 and June 2020 numerous Control Centre Operators had caught the virus and had had to self-isolate and numerous others had been considered to be ‘vulnerable’ and had also had to stay at home. At this point in time Tendring Careline had been operating on an old analogue call handling platform which meant that all Operators had to be physically present in the Control Centre which was a relatively small space with no windows and no fresh air circulating so it would have been likely that the virus could be transmitted. The decision had subsequently been taken to close the Control Centre and deploy a new digital call handling platform. This had enabled the Careline Operators to work from home but it had taken many months of online training for the Operators to get back up to speed on the new platform and, in addition, there had also been various problems with staff using the wifi available in their own homes whereby the wifi would ‘drop-out’ and calls could not therefore be answered.


The Committee was made aware that throughout the months April 2020 until April 2021 the service had continued to see staff resources stretched and that there had been times when it had not been possible to have enough trained staff online in order to meet the KPI’s. It was also noted that call volumes had also increased during this time as the service had seen more frequent, and longer, calls from its vulnerable service users. A recruitment campaign had been initiated in September 2020 with new members of staff joining at the beginning of 2021 but the speed of training that was possible online had meant that the Council was not able to put those new recruits onto the rota until May 2021.


Members were advised that the second mitigating factor was the contract with Provide CIC and the addition of service users from the Essex County Council (ECC) telecare contract. Tendring Careline had been contracted to supply out-of-hours call monitoring services to Provide CIC since 2014 (between 6pm and 8am Monday to Friday, and all weekend and bank holidays). Early in 2021 Provide CIC, with Tendring Careline as a sub-contractor, had been successful in bidding for the newly let ECC Telecare contract which had started in July 2021. This contract had added 2,500 new service users that had needed to be monitored from day one and the addition of more service users on a daily basis.


The size of the contract and the speed that new service users were being added had contributed to Tendring Careline not being able once more to meet the TSA call handling KPI’s. A restructure of the Control Centre Operators had been implemented in October 2021 and further recruitment had been undertaken but it had become clear that Tendring Careline would not be able to manage the Provide CIC contract and maintain the TSA call handling KPIs.


Recovery Plan


The Committee was informed that there were three actions that had been taken to ensure that Tendring Careline was able to meet the call monitoring KPIs and thus retain its TSA accreditation, namely:-


1.   Provide CIC had given notice that the contract with Tendring Careline would end on 19th April 2022. This would immediately relieve the pressure on the Control Centre Operators as they would be only be monitoring circa 5,000 service users instead of the current 13,300. There was no intention to reduce staffing as it was imperative that Tendring Careline could meet its obligations to its service users.

2.   Call volumes would be monitored on a monthly basis to ensure the service had enough Control Centre Operators to meet the KPIs.

3.   An additional bank of Casual Control Centre Operators was being recruited to ensure there was sufficient cover for sickness and holidays.


It was reported that this recovery plan had been submitted to the TSA and accepted on the proviso that call handling KPIs were met after April 2022. The TSA had confirmed the Council’s accreditation for the period until 24 June 2022. At that point Tendring Careline would be audited again as part of the annual cycle but the audit was likely to focus on the call monitoring area of compliance.


In addition, an internal ‘Improvement Monitoring Group’ was to be created to confirm that any action plans were put in place and checked regularly to ensure compliance. This group would include the Portfolio Holder and senior officers from the Audit, Finance and Partnerships teams.


The Head of Customer and Commercial Services responded to a question to say that he considered the Business Continuity Plan for the service was now more robust using the learning from the last two years.


During the discussion of this item, the Head of Customer and Commercial Services advised of the position whereby BT/Openreach had intended to end the analogue telephone system by 2025 as it rolled out digital telephone lines across the country.  It had recently announced a pause in that plan.  The issue with the plan for telecare providers such as Careline was that electricity outages generally did not affect the analogue telephone lines whereas they were catastrophic for digital telephone lines.  As such, robust arrangements need to be in place to support those who were telecare customers to protect them when using digital telephone lines in the event of an electricity outage.  For a while now, Tendring Careline had been deploying alarms for its new customers which included a small battery backup and a SIM card so that, in the event of an electricity outage, the customer could still activate the alarm and contact Careline using those back-up capabilities.


The dedication of the team delivering services through the Careline service was commented upon by members of the Committee.


RESOLVED that the Committee notes the contents of the report and requests Officers to create a recovery action plan.


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