A family fear their vulnerable daughter could be in danger after her overnight carers were removed and replaced by a technology system.
Ruth Cherry, 27, of Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, has had complex learning disabilities from a young age, including autism and epilepsy, and needs round-the-clock care.
The young woman, who cannot speak, feed herself or go to the toilet unassisted, was given the opportunity to move into her own flat with live-in carers in January.
But just six months later, health care officials decided to remove overnight carers and replace them with a new telecommunications system – meaning Ruth is left alone from 10pm until 8am.
Brother David Cherry, 28, told Metro.co.uk he is concerned the new system will have a detrimental effect on his sister, who will be locked in the flat unable to go to the toilet or get a drink of water for 10 hours every night.
Frustrated with the move, the family have launched a petition to re-instate his sister’s overnight carers, which has so far garnered more than 85,000 signatures.
David said his sister can only communicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and is concerned her subtle signs could easily be missed on a camera.
‘She’s non-verbal, she can’t say things. That’s what’s so ridiculous about this system,’ said David.
‘She often does a “yes” with different breathing, a sound, or through her eyes. It’s very subtle.’
The telecare system has a microphone and a camera attached to a touch screen display, where a professional will be on the other side watching for signs of distress.
If there is an emergency they will send a response team to Ruth but the family are worried they wouldn’t make it in time.
The family said they were told Ruth would be taking part in a trial for the new technology but were later informed her carers were being removed overnight, forcing mother Shona, 54, to move into the flat to make sure her daughter is safe.
‘We can’t see a way that this was a good idea,’ David continued.
‘Even though my sister’s GP, her neurosurgeon, the fire brigade and the police said this was inappropriate for Ruth and could be potentially dangerous, the council went ahead and pushed it through.’
David said his mum ‘can’t face leaving Ruth alone’, as she often wakes in the night and sometimes in distress.
However, he said his mother – who also cares for his epileptic father, Ian, and brother, Stuart, who has autism – was told she must not assist Ruth during the night, as it will ‘interfere with the system’.
‘Mum has to stay in her room all night, she’s not allowed to go and help,’ added David.
‘It’s been very stressful. Mum’s been sat there hearing her making noises for hours but she can’t do anything. She did think about breaking it one night though when Ruth was upset.’
He described it as ‘mad’ that Ruth’s carers, who are her friends as well as physical support, are expected at the end of the day to hand over to a computer system with a stranger on the other end.
David, who runs film workshops for people with additional needs, thinks the move is down to budget cuts.
Although he ‘sympathises’ that services are incredibly stretched, he believes this ‘isn’t the way to save money’ and that using computers instead of human care is ‘setting a scary precedent’.
A spokesperson for East Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership said: ‘The care of our residents is our absolute priority and we are always considering the best way to deliver services which suit their individual needs.
‘The revised policy for overnight support was introduced following careful consideration, and due to significant advances in technology we can now care for people in a less intrusive and more effective way throughout the night.
‘We are committed to continuing to work closely with families to ensure the best provision is in place.’