COUNTY chiefs are set to spend up to £10m over five years on a remote alarm system for vulnerable pensioners living in their own homes.

The “telecare” system could be fitted into thousands of homes across Hampshire in a bid to keep pensioners safe from harm, including those at risk of falling and dementia sufferers.

However there is no new money for the system and Tory council bosses plan to pay for it by spending less on homecare visits and care homes.

It has led the boss of a Hampshire homecare company to warn it should not been seen as a “cheap replacement”

for hands-on care.

David Watt, chief executive of Southampton-based Nobilis Homecare, said: “Obviously a device in the home is not going to make meals for people, wash, dress or put them to bed.

“But sensors can check if there is the normal pattern of activity around the house and prompt to take medication “The only downfall is if it is seen as a cheap replacement for domiciliary care but used sensibly it can be a useful part of the mix.”

Cllr Felicity Hindson, executive member for adult social care, was today expected to approve going out to tender for a company to install the equipment and run the response centre that will come to the aid of pensioners.

Telecare can be a device worn as a pendant and activated by pressing a button to call for help.

But sensors can also be fitted around the home to monitor sleep and other activities.

Cllr Hindson said: “Telecare can be used to compliment traditional care or be used to replace it. For example, someone who requires help with tasks such as washing or dressing will be visited by a carer but they may also have telecare to remind them to take medication and detect any falls.”

At present, only 260 elderly people have telecare provided by the council at an average cost of £408 compared to 5,510 receiving homecare visits.

The plan is to boost numbers by providing the system free to those in “substantial” and “critical” need.

Managers says the system could save up to £5m within three years but there is a risk the costs could be greater than the savings.

The company that wins the contract will be paid by results, including a reduction in calls by carers to check on the elderly and residential care.

Other potential benefits include a reduction in hospital stays.

Councillor Alan Dowden, Liberal Democrat opposition spokesman for adult social care, said he supported telecare as part of a package of services.

But he said: “There are benefits but it is not the be all and end all. People still need visits from carers even if it is only once a day to provide personal care and have a chat.”