Government urged to audit social care to provide “roadmap” for use of digital technologies

Technology association says the Government should prepare social care for a “significant transformation” over the coming decade and calls for a review into current digital structures within the sector.

The Government should work to ensure that digital technology is at the forefront of how social care is delivered in the future and how outcomes are improved for service users, according to a new report.

The digital technology trade association techUK has made the recommendation as part of its new ten-point plan for the incorporation of future digitisation strategies into the delivery of social care in the UK.

The report describes the social care sector as “a policy no man’s land”, where attempts to find a political solution to the issues around a sustainable funding model are often described as “unfeasible or undesirable” by politicians.

The association said that the “level of fragmentation” within the care system, apparent challenges around digital familiarity and maturity across the sector, as well as the continued function of care as a “poor relation of the NHS” in terms of funding and policy, currently presented strong barriers to the implementation of clear digitisation strategy.

Many years of underinvestment in digital infrastructures had resulted in “social care organisations being left with outdated systems that do not cater to the needs of today’s workforce or the workforce of the future,” said the report.

As such, the paper found that along with the continuous rapid developments of new digital technologies within the sector, a more long-term strategic plan is needed to ensure that social care does not fall behind in the decades to come.

The association has called on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to review current digital structures within the social care sector to allow for a full application of new systems in the coming years.

“An audit of the social care system, including a review of the levers available to policy makers, will help to make clear who is responsible for the digital transformation of the social care system, and critically, what the various options are to achieve this,” the report says.

“With clear leadership on social care established, policy makers can work to define a ‘target architecture’ that will help to scale solutions and provide guidance to the providers of care on what is possible, how they can achieve it and where it has been previously done.”

The report states that the sector is now faced with a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to build on the good work undertaken in response to the pandemic, which has seen the greatest digital transformation and incorporation of more technologies into everyday practice.

The association lists the increased use of video calling platforms, within both everyday care practice and care delivery structures over the course of the pandemic, as examples of how digitisation is already being incorporated into the sector, and why there is a need for wider social care digital policy to be put in place.

The report highlights the need for social care to develop more sector-specific digital upskilling initiatives for staff, comparable to the NHS Digital Academy, which the association found as having made “great strides towards developing the next generation of digital leaders” within healthcare.

Other recommendations from the paper include developing world-class digital health and care standards, improving people’s access to their own data, centrally mandating, assessing and enforcing data access standards, and streamlining the ways care providers procure digital technology.

The role of ICSs should also be enshrined in law to make it easier for suppliers to engage with the system, the report added.

Victoria Betton, Vice Chair of the techUK Health and Social Care Council, said: “With input from a wide range of industry experts, this paper goes a long way to cast an examining eye on the longstanding challenges that have held back health care for years.

“Throughout, it highlights the importance of a highly-trained and digitally-empowered workforce, a well-informed public and improved procurement practices across the system.

“Policymakers, technologists, clinicians and innovators should consider these recommendations and look, both at a local and national level, to understand how to support their implementation.”

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