Embracing technology and the future of social care in a post-COVID world
Gavin Bashar, UK MD at Tunstall Healthcare, discusses how the pandemic has shone a long overdue light on the obstacles facing the social care system and the urgency of reform.
The adult social care sector is estimated to contribute £41.2 billion per annum to the economy in England. It faces many challenges, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, yet continues to make a huge difference to vulnerable people every day.
The resilience of the social care system means it has navigated decades of postponed reform with flexibility, but at the price of not being able to plan for the long term and rising levels of unmet need. Over many years the savings made through underfunding of social care has led to significant extra costs in responses further down the line.
It is crucial that lessons are learned from the last 18 months, including the rapid progress achieved in innovation and technology development to support care service delivery.
While the social care system is diverse and complex, the principles on which it is based are simple and uniform. Care and support focuses on the needs of individuals, leading to a better quality of life for people who access these services and those who care for them. However, the many pressures on the social care system have led to ongoing challenges and rising levels of unmet needs.
Improvements in the provision, scale and quality of digital technology in social care, will lead to further improvements in how the social care system collaborates with key partners such as the NHS, commissioners in local authorities, advocacy groups and other key stakeholders with a commitment to person centred and support. Investment in digital transformation has a multiplier effect in terms of increasing efficiencies, such as reducing burdens on care staff and encouraging the adoption of emerging technology to improve the overall effectiveness of the social care system as a whole.
Years of underfunding, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities have resulted in a workforce crisis across social care. Already under enormous strain, staff have had to work through the demands of the pandemic and the impact on their wellbeing should not be underestimated. The pandemic also brought into sharp relief the disparity of esteem between health and social care.
By making social care more appealing as a career, with improvements in recruitment and retention, people who access care and support will see higher quality outcomes in their daily lives. In care homes, greater investment in technology can lessen the burden on care staff, making it easier for them to provide care where and when it is needed most, as well as reassurance that the people they care for have 24-hour support. It can also enable care to be more personalised and preventative, as well as making residential settings quieter, calmer places to live and work.
It’s not only care home operators that need to consider how they could better use technology to protect vulnerable people. Care providers supporting people in their own homes should also consider investing in telecare, telehealth and proactive calling to enable greater community-based care, extending independence for individuals and reducing anxiety for informal carers
With the right digital frameworks, integration can become focused on the individual, their choices, their health, their care, without any of the gaps between institutions, with care delivered more effectively, with better outcomes.
It is in this context that digital transformation can enable innovation in terms of service design, enabling new models of care to be developed and scaled up. This is particularly important in the context of housing design and the incorporation of new technology and innovation, including in the development of new models of care.
There is now not only an imperative to improve and restore service provision, whilst remaining prepared for future challenges, but also to build on recent learnings to bring about positive change and renewal. We must consider our services beyond the pandemic and the benefits that technology can provide longer term.
A greater investment in technology within our social care services will enable care to become more proactive and clinicians and care providers will be able to detect conditions at a much earlier stage. As we begin to see the next generation of predictive care technology emerge, and more providers use these solutions, we’ll see Population Health Management programmes optimised and able to provide personalised and anticipatory care at a level never seen before.
The social care system must be supported to make the greatest possible improvements in health and wellbeing for everyone, well beyond this COVID-19 crisis.
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