Tablets with 4G unlimited data plans for elderly and vulnerable isolating from Covid-19

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I came across a post online recently that really made me think. It was by the son of a frail 91 year old woman living in a care home who had just tested positive for Covid-19.

The poster explained his mother would need to be isolated alone in her room for 14 days. There is no phone line in her room so she relies on carers to take a phone to her. Not great, the poster said, as they need to PPE up each time they go in the room.

He was wondering if an Amazon Echo device would help him keep in touch with his mum through video calling. 

He explained any solution would need to be super simple as neither his mother or the care home staff would be able to sort things out. The poster was looking for ideas for the most straightforward solution, which would need to be set up and then just left to work.

The post made me think of my own experience of how helpful it was to easily keep in touch with my bed-bound brother, Ian, with an Amazon Echo device for video calling, in the week before he died two years ago. The solution worked both ways as it was easy for Ian to reach out to us when he needed to. I know it was of comfort to him in his final days.

One person replying to the post suggested the Grandpad. It appears to fit the bill perfectly but at a cost of £400! You will be very hard pressed to find a tablet and a 12 month unlimited 4G data plan from any of the mobile phone networks for less than £420. This is a lot of money especially at the moment.

Reading about the problems and considerations of keeping in touch with elderly loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic, and my own personal experience of video calling made easy with one of Amazon's Echo devices, has made me question whether major tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, should be partnering with phone networks like EE, Vodafone, BT, O2 and Three to offer something similar to the Grandpad but significantly more cheaply for the elderly in care homes, and vulnerable people isolating at home?

I am not asking them to design something new from scratch. It would be the most suitable tablet computer from their existing lineups pre-configured with a unlimited 4G data connection so it is ready to go for video calling out-of-the-box. Some, perhaps many elderly people will not necessarily have Wi-Fi and a broadband contract so a ready to go 4G connection with easy setup could be really helpful for keeping in touch.

By way of practical example, Amazon could partner with EE and offer its most suitable Fire tablet, bundled with unlimited 4G internet at a very competitive price, say £100, for everyone on the government’s list of people especially vulnerable to Covid-19 asked to isolate alone away from family and loved ones.

As the online poster I came across makes clear this is an issue that’s important for people desperate to keep in touch with loved ones in care homes, and at home. Care staff and families shouldn’t have to faff around setting up and connecting devices to patchy WiFi networks risking them and their patients in the process. On many occasions care staff have had to resort to using their own mobile phones to help elderly people communicate with their families by video calling. We should be able to do better than this.

Tech giants and phone networks could make everything far simpler and cheaper for people needing to keep in touch with loved ones over video calling, sometimes at the end of life and having to say goodbye.

It's my understanding that some local authorities are starting to look at this issue inside care homes where residents are being confined to their rooms with no visitors.

Central government also has a significant role and responsibility here as it plans its lockdown exit strategy. It is almost certain the elderly and vulnerable will be asked to isolate for at least a year until a vaccine becomes available so it should put support like this in place as soon as possible.

As it has done with the supermarkets, and priority home deliveries, the government should hand over its data to the tech giants and phone networks on who it has classified as extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. Privacy safeguards should be considered and built in but privacy shouldn’t be a barrier to the creation of such a scheme. 

Give the most frail, elderly and vulnerable people isolating in care home rooms, or at home, the opportunity to have a suitable tablet with a 12 month unlimited 4G internet connection, if needed, for video calling, emailing and messaging their families.

Let’s challenge the tech giants, phone networks and the government to do this for just £100!

This would be one incredible way they can make a difference at the moment, and show they are businesses with a true social conscience.

I am calling on the government to invite the tech giants and phone networks into Downing Street for a meeting on how they can best help our elderly and most vulnerable to keep in touch during this pandemic.

Not everyone will need a tablet, and an unlimited data plan for video calling, but where there is a clear need we should try and meet it during these challenging times.

With all that people in care homes are going through right now is a cheap tablet computer with a 4G data plan for video calling too much to ask? If, like me, you feel it’s the least we can do, please sign this petition.

You can't put a price on communication with your loved ones so let’s not let anyone be priced out!

Please consider this ask and sign this petition.