Customised IT makes truly person-centred service

How one company’s innovative computer technology is providing highly individualised bespoke supported living care packages for people with learning disabilities in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  

How one company’s innovative computer technology is providing highly individualised bespoke supported living care packages for people with learning disabilities in Newcastle Upon Tyne 

Teenagers rebel against their parents in many different ways.

For Simon Cook, son of a learning disability nurse, this youthful rebellion involved him taking up metaphorical arms against his father by joining the armed forces. After all, not many jobs are more diametrically opposed than Royal Navy warfare officer and nurse.

‘I was in the Navy to rebel against my dad,’ laughs Simon. ‘But then my captain asked me: “Have you got a problem with shooting a missile?” And I said, “Well yes actually, I do.”’

It was a short-lived career stint.

Nursing inspiration

Thanks to his father – a retired learning disability nurse of 40 years – nursing has always been in Simon’s blood.

‘When I was four years old, I used to go with my dad on his night shifts in the hospital because he couldn’t find a babysitter,’ he says, with no small amount of pride in his voice.

‘I used to sleep at the nurses’ station.’

Simon says his father inspired him to become a learning disability nurse.

Simon Cook with his company Orbis Support’s personalised IT care. Photo credit: Jim Varner

When he was 16, Simon's dad told him they were going to learn how to support a person with learning disabilities at home, and moved someone into their house.

Simon says: ‘He used to argue that people with learning disabilities should not be in hospital. He’s been a real role model.

‘My dad always plays down his skill set, but he has been a pioneer in this industry as an early promoter of the supported living model.’

This unwavering dedication to improving and transforming the life experiences of those with learning disabilities has been at the root of the companies Simon has founded since becoming a nurse.

Passion and drive

Most recently, Simon set up Orbis Support, along with co-founder Nigel Devine, a social worker with whom he says he shares ‘the same goals, passion and drive’.

Since April 2016, the company has been providing personalised care packages to support people with a range of physical needs and learning disabilities to be able to live at home.

‘There are still far too many people in hospital for no other reason than having learning disabilities,’ says Simon, shaking his head. ‘It is scandalous, actually.

‘We are still seeing Winterbournes across the UK and it is not acceptable. We want to be part of the movement to support people to move on.’

Nigel agrees. He says providers have a real role to play in working alongside families to build trust and relationships – something that can often be missing in larger companies.

Personal approach

This personal approach is in demand.

‘I met Simon at a time when families were coming to me and saying please set up a company – take our sons and daughters, and do it better,’ explains Nigel.

‘We supported one elderly lady with dementia who had been through a lot of providers.

‘She went from being quite miserable to having her life transformed within a short space of time.

‘In this case, we also reduced the costs [for the commissioner] and were able to give back a substantial sum of money.

‘The feedback we have had is great.’

But Nigel says they only want to work with one person at a time in terms of setting up services and would rather turn down work than grow too quickly.

‘We’ve been offered a lot of work already, but said no to so much of it, because we are building incredibly slowly,’ adds Simon. ‘You can become too big and lose quality.’

Custom-built system

Along with its owners’ drive and passion, Simon says the company’s gift to commissioners lies in its custom-built IT system, which staff can access from phones, tablet computers and laptops.

‘You will never have seen anything like it,’ promises Simon, whose computer whizz brother built it to specification for him.

Functioning something like an ultra-secure Facebook, the system allows support workers to provide selected recipients with real time information about clients, including notes on their moods and activity reports at key points in the day.

Vitally, it offers the directors crucial data about their clients’ needs and happiness, and a chance to spot patterns or anomalies, which can be used to effectively tailor support.

‘This technology is our unique selling point,’ says Nigel.

The system is being updated early this year to will include new tools that will enable the clients to input information about their own mood and feelings by pressing colour coded images.

Staff will also be able to send videos and pictures of the person they are supporting to the managers.

Exacting standards

On the other hand, the company’s attention to the humans running the system is exacting.

‘My view is that any life is only as good as the people supporting it,’ says Nigel.

‘Because we don’t have a heavy management structure, we can afford to pay staff more than the minimum wage.’

The pair are adamant that having the right support workers is a critical requirement and paying better wages helps to ensure this.

‘Everything is bespoke about the package we provide,’ says Simon.

‘The support team is employed for a person by matching needs and aspirations; through speaking to families and the people needing care.

‘Our model is based on relationships – we can’t force someone to be supported, they have got to want to be.’

Nigel says: ‘You don’t just employ people to work with anyone, you look at linking staff’s strengths and interests with the individual.

‘One lady we supported had a support worker for a couple of days who wasn’t right and we had to take that person out.

‘But, we are very honest [with new employees] from the start.’

Offending behaviour

Another strand to Orbis Support is supporting people with learning disabilities who are in contact with the criminal justice system.

Simon already has experience in this area through Pioneering Independence; another company he set up in Plymouth. This organisation supports those with learning disabilities who have been in contact with the forensic system.

He says clients may include sexual offenders, or those who have committed offences such as arson, but often it is about supporting those coming out of prison or mental health hospitals.

‘Some of these people’s histories you couldn’t write down without feeling tearful,’ he explains.

‘In my company in Plymouth, 50% have offended or are at risk of offending. People are often at risk from themselves or have been subject to abuse.’

Getting the right package of care together is very important, he says.

‘It is about creating a bespoke package, but with much more emphasis on risk management and how you can safely support someone in the community,’ he explains.

‘The prime example would be that you wouldn’t move a sex offender next to a school. You would be surprised how often that happens.’

Cluster services

Key clinical information for the risk intervention support plan is kept on the company’s IT system, which is accessible to key staff through mobiles and laptops.

Simon adds that having cluster services – housing five people within the same geographical area – is the model he is developing for Orbis.

‘We have to be careful though, we don’t want a pitchfork procession outside people’s front doors,’ he says, alluding to a past situation in which one of his clients had to be moved after his history as a sex offender was uncovered.

‘Some people are on the sex offenders’ register, so we don’t wear name badges or uniforms when we visit them.

‘The beauty of our IT system is that if someone went into the house, there is no paperwork. They wouldn’t know that residential care was being delivered.’

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