CALLS have been made for “a more robust system” to protect vulnerable older people after a pensioner was unable to raise vital help because his phone line had been disconnected.
Age Scotland has requested a thorough review of telecare services offered to elderly residents by phone line operators and local authorities. The calls came after the Evening News reported how James Milne, 92, lay injured for more than 12 hours after phone operator BT cut off his landline over a £90 bill.
A panic alarm around his neck was rendered useless when his line was disconnected without his knowledge.
The incident highlighted an oversight in the system which means residents with panic alarms are only encouraged to “opt in” and register with their line rental provider as vulnerable, as the council does not register on their behalf.
BT has said it was “sorry to hear about the accident” but insisted it had tried to contact the Drumbrae pensioner twice before disconnecting his phone.
Edinburgh West MSP Colin Keir said: “This is a very unfortunate situation which I believe could have been avoided.
“Currently there is no requirement for alarm providers to inform BT of customers who make use of panic buttons. It would make sense if providers alerted phone companies about those customers so that they can take appropriate action.
“Clearly there needs to be more joined-up action between phone companies and alarm providers to guarantee the safety of elderly residents in their own homes.”
This was echoed by Age Scotland policy officer Greg McCracken, who said: “Scotland’s ageing population means we have to shift how services are delivered – away from acute care in hospitals and care homes and towards supporting people to remain independent in their own home.
“Of course, for this to be a success, we will need effective systems which don’t cut off when they are needed most.
“We all have a responsibility to achieve our ambition of ensuring older people are enabled to live at home. This extends to businesses like BT, whose services are vital to the successful operation of telehealthcare systems.”
Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city’s health leader, said: “We will work with Mr Milne and his family to better understand what has gone wrong and also review our alert arrangements with BT and other phoneline providers.”
A BT spokesman said: “We were not aware of Mr Milne’s circumstances. He was not registered with us as a vulnerable customer and we are not made aware when third parties install care alarms.
“We are trying to get in touch with his relatives or carers as a matter of urgency to outline the registration process for our more vulnerable customers, along with other options they can consider to make sure there is no repetition.”