MUCH of Britain’s retirement housing is not fit for the 21st century, with alarm call technology that can fail to connect people to the help they need.

That’s the view of the boss at the UK’s largest centre monitoring the “telecare” systems of people in supported accommodation.

Tim Barclay is the recently-appointed chief executive of Appello, which has 180 staff taking calls at its New Milton centre, as well as a base in Lymington producing new technology for retirement housing.

Mr Barclay is concerned that most retirement housing still uses analogue technology to service residents who push an alarm button or pull a cord for help.

“All those pull cords and push buttons, typically the technology dates back to the 1960s or 70s. It’s an old, analogue technology. It means you can only do one thing at a time,” he said.

“If somebody’s trying to get in the door, triggering a door call, at the same time as a resident needs to raise an alarm call, the door call goes first because there isn’t the capacity in it to put the emergency call ahead of the door call.”

And he said calls coming out of an analogue system do not connect to the phone network successfully all the time.

“Currently, around seven per cent of all alarm calls fail first time. They take 90 per seconds to set up and they fail,” he said.

“There’s a really worrying delay before the call will actually go through to the alarm receiving centre to some type of help and support.”

Appello, with around 10-12 per cent of the UK market, says it sees around 17,000 analogue calls a month fail the first time. “That’s probably close to 150,000 across the whole of the UK’s providers,” said Mr Barclay.

“What Appello has done is develop the UK’s first end-to-end digital welfare emergency alarm service and we’ve now employed that in about 60-70 housing association locations.”

Mr Barclay came to Appello from BT, where he was chief operating officer for the global government and health division.

Established in 1988, Appello has become the biggest player in its field, and its monitoring centre serves 5,740 older people in Dorset alone. Its annual turnover is around £15million.

As well as emergency support, its new digital system allows people to see visitors at the door, and provides room-to-room video calling to keep them in touch with others in their buildings.

Clients for the new system include Ringwood-based developer Churchill Retirement Living and Housing & Care 21, which installed the first new system at Pearce Smith Court in Barton-on-Sea.

“There are a lot more in the Dorset area so we are starting to make that improvement in people’s wellbeing and their safety,” he said.

“The customer satisfaction statistics are tremendous. Those people who had the only analogue systems and now have digital systems, 90 per cent feel safer as a result and 80 plus percent feel it’s more in keeping with their lifestyle.

“Fifty-seven per cent felt their wellbeing had improved because our room-to-room calling helped them feel more engaged in the community they live in. We’re making a real difference to those people in the Dorset area.”