AN initiative to help elderly and vulnerable people in County Durham retain their independence is expected to go countywide.

A pilot scheme launched in the Easington district is estimated to have saved 1,783 residential care bed days over the past year.

About 150 older people in east Durham have had telecare sensors and assistive devices fitted to their homes, which detect crisis situations and alert control centre staff who send help.

Yesterday, Pam Mills, who has been leading Durham County Council's People at Home and In Touch project in partnership with local health and housing authorities, said the year-long project had been an outstanding success.

The equipment can detect if a person falls or collapses, gets out of bed but does not return, leaves a tap running or a fire or cooker burning and unlocks the front door to welcome callers.

Older people can be at risk of falls, hypothermia and the consequences of forgetfulness such as fires, floods and wandering.

Ms Mills said there were clearly many other people in the county who had needs that could be addressed by a technological solution.

Another pilot scheme is planned in Sedgefield and the countywide potential is being considered.