Boosting social care with technology

Cllr Martin Tett, health and social care spokesperson for the County Councils Network explains how technology can be used to solve many of the problems facing the social care sector

It goes without saying that the adult social care sector faces many challenges – ageing demographics, workforce pressures, and financial strains are just three of the most visible issues for local authorities.
But what has perhaps gone under the radar is that a solution is right on our fingertips – technology. Over the last few years there has been a substantial shift in the number of technology-based solutions that have come to market, and whilst they are not a silver bullet to solve all the issues within social care, they can help to bring efficiency, ease the burden on staff and ensure targeted care for those who need it.
In this climate, ‘Adopting the right technology to transform social care’ sets a precedent for implementing technological advancements within social care services and provides an informative guide for how to create lasting, positive change at a community level.
The report was launched in partnership by the County Councils Network (CCN) and Tunstall Healthcare, and was released amidst the government’s ongoing focus on driving greater adoption of technology to achieve widespread digitisation across social care. This report launch follows on from CCN and Tunstall’s 2021 report; ‘Employing Assistive Technology in Adult Social Care’ which set out the multitude of ways in which advances in digital technology is on the brink of delivering a potentially transformative impact on the adult social care system.
In this report, CCN and Tunstall argue that the potential of technology to support those with social care needs is growing ‘exponentially’ each year, and the study aims to spur a greater push towards the use of digital technology across the sector. Alongside the transformation of services, it was found that digital transformation can hugely benefit care users, from allowing more independence to widening understanding around condition management and reducing anxiety.

The progress so far
Since ‘Employing Assistive Technology in Adult Social Care’ was published, it is clear that progress is being made in many parts of the country. The prime objective for embedding technology-based services in social care continues to focus on supporting care users in accessing the right support services. However, there is also a growing understanding of how people-focussed outcomes need to be a key driver of how and where services are delivered.

In short, technology needs to deliver tangible benefits for both local authorities and people.
From a policy perspective, the most positive step forward in the past year has been the priority the government has placed on technology as a means of improving adult social care services. Their ‘People at the Heart of Care’ white paper highlights a number of areas that the government expects funding to be directed. This includes procuring more and better assistive technology to support services, improving the establishment and maintenance of digital records and data, upskilling the adult social care workforce in how to use technology, and bedding in wider digital infrastructure and cybersecurity within systems.

Government commitments
‘Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care’ also highlights the importance of digital transformation in adult social care. This, together with the ‘What Good Looks Like’ framework and ‘digital skills’ framework will help to frame what future services look like. What is clear is that both the public and private sector understand what needs to be done, but it’s a question of delivery i.e. ‘the how’ so that transformational gains can be made, especially in an era of tight local authority budgets where a lot of social care funding is funnelled towards those in crisis.
Investment in digital by local authorities will also help to standardise services and provide support when switching to using digital technologies, such as 24/7 monitoring centres to provide quick and instantaneous support. This in turn will contribute to the development of new skills and innovations that can be deployed where and when they are most needed.
Driving innovation and improvement is another important factor. Technology is developing all the time and we must continue to review the outcomes we want to deliver, making sure that technology can support effective delivery.
An element of this is around improving data access and producing better insights i.e. the more data we have about someone, collected in an ethical way, then the greater the chance of using algorithms and machine learning to improve decision making on a user-by-user bases. Advancements in this area have the potential to lead to all round better services that benefit users whilst making authority services more efficient and effective.
Imagine how outcomes could be improved if we can potentially predict what could happen before it does? Whilst we won’t get it right every time, the potential is huge.

Practical steps for local authorities
As the report illustrates, the possibility of transforming the whole social care system, both delivering better outcomes for individuals and reducing costs for the state, does exist. But to achieve this, local authorities need to carefully manage a wider array of bureaucracy and organisational challenges to understand what care users need in the context of new and emerging technology, and then deliver excellent services that are efficient and effective.
There are a number of practical steps detailed in ‘Adopting the right technology to transform adult social care’ that are recommended to local authorities to enable the embedding of technology into social care services. These are as follows.
Firstly, underestimating the time it takes to embed change can seriously impact how quickly new solutions can be integrated into care. Organisational and cultural change needs to be led from the top and embedded throughout local authorities, ICSs and health, housing and social care services. If all stakeholders collaborate and work to the same strategy, implementation is easier and more likely to be accepted.
Secondly, when tenders are released, they are often complicated and time consuming to complete. Understanding what good procurement processes look like from a market perspective can ensure that these are easier to complete. This includes understanding the outcomes that local authorities and care providers want to achieve and stating them clearly, making sure questions are specific and to the point, and providing enough time for suppliers to respond to the tender, particularly if it requires cultural and service transformation.
Finally, working in partnership with providers can support the effective delivery of technology and data-led practice. It’s important to understand that there are multiple organisations and providers that are available to provide advice and collaborate with. Supplier experts can provide advice on the most relevant solutions and service delivery, run services, and implement new technological solutions.
In all, the report was launched at an important time, with the government postponing social care charging reforms until 2024, giving us valuable time to assess what is needed for whole-system reform, especially with a new administration on the horizon whatever the result of the general election. And with a clear commitment from this government on the merits of greater digitisation, if local authorities begin a step-change now to deploying a greater range of technology in social care then we will have significant long-term benefits.
If CCN and Tunstall’s 2021 report set out the why in adopting technology, this new study sets out the how. I hope many in the sector enjoy its recommendations and roadmap.

Further Information: 

The report is available here.

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