A pilot project fitting tracking devices to people living in nursing and residential care or at home isbeing launched this month, the Journal has learned.
Health authorities made the revelation while responding to a call by Robert Concannon, the brother of missing Derry man John Concannon, for bracelets with GPS trackers for people with dementia.
The pilot project will run from January to April 2016.
In a joint response to the call from Mr Concannon’s brother, issued by the the Health and Social Care Board Northern Ireland and Public Health Agency, they stated:
“The Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Board are working jointly with the Alzheimer’s Society and local Health and Social Care Trusts to implement the NI Dementia Strategy Improving Dementia Services in Northern Ireland (2011).
“This regional strategy aims to promote a culture which ensures people with dementia are supported both to live with dignity and to maintain as much independence as possible.”
A pilot is due to commence January to April 2016 to test the use of a tracking device for individuals living at home or in a nursing/ residential care setting.The Public Health Agency and the HSCB
The statement added: “There are a range of devices that are helpful for people with dementia however the use of these is preferable following an assessment by a health and social care practitioner to determine the appropriate device based on individual need.
“The person using the device must have the capacity to consent to its use and a road safety assessment check must be carried out by an Occupational Therapist.
“Innovative technologies have provided new electronic devices to help service users, families and care providers maintain and maximise independence.
“A pilot is due to commence January to April 2016 to test the use of a tracking device for individuals living at home or in a nursing/ residential care setting.”
The two health bodies said that the findings from this study will inform the development of care pathways, adding:
“It is vital that any decisions about the use of this equipment are considered in line with the rights of the individual and that robust safeguards are in place to ensure protection of the dignity of individuals living with dementia.”
Robert Concannon yesterday told the Journal that a tracker bracelet device would have located his brother - who has now been missing for more than two months- within hours had he been wearing one.
Speaking after the latest search for dementia sufferer John (71), Mr Concannon said: “They should come up with a GPS tracker in a water proof bracelet that could be put on somebody. If we had had something like this we would have got John right away.
“They could pincode it with a four digit code that only the family have a code for. If something happens then you can find them right away, and if you factor in the costs of searches and helicopters, this would be saving a lot of money. It would pay for itself. “
He added that this would help to keep more people in their homes rather than having to place them in expensive, secure units.
Mr Concannon challenged anyone who might raise concerns over human rights in relation to such bracelets to walk in their shoes and come back to him if their mother, father, sibling or child had been missing for two months.
He added: “Anybody with diabetes or a pacemaker has something to identify that. What is the difference? And everybody with a smart phone has a tracker.”
Mr Concannon said that he knew that his brother was not the first local person with dementia to go missing, having spoken to someone whose grandfather had been missing for two weeks and turned up at a house party in Cork.
“If you can’t cure it, you have to manage it. What is the cheapest option?” he asked. “Keep someone in a lock-up home or pay for a one off bracelet with a tracker.”