Report calls for assistive technology to become ‘mainstream’ in adult social care services

The County Councils Network has called for a new framework and funding to make assistive technology ‘mainstream’ in adult social care services, including providing the infrastructure to roll out the practice effectively in rural areas.

12/08/21

Report calls for assistive technology to become ‘mainstream’ in adult social care services

The County Councils Network has called for the expansion of assistive technology (AT) in adult social care services in a new report.

The report, produced by the County Councils Network and supported by tech company Tunstall Healthcare, looked at the prevalence of the technology currently in county councils’ services for adults and what can be done to scale its use across whole social care systems, and maximise its benefits to professionals and service users.

AT includes systems such as ‘telecare’ and ‘telehealth’, which enables professionals to provide support and monitor health remotely and council leaders say the systems enable care to be more targeted and preventative and empower people to remain independent.

The report finds that whilst this tech has been effectively used to improve care for individuals, there is scope for the technology to be used to promote closer integration between health and social care – such as using data and aligning health and care monitoring systems together.

Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare, said the pandemic caused a “rapid expansion” of new forms of delivery among social care service providers.

“AT is still sometimes viewed as an add-on or optional piece of care, but it must be mainstreamed and embedded into cultural change. Publication of case studies and good examples nationally, alongside national benchmarks, better training opportunities and an increased profile of the technology available would support more local authorities to invest,” Bashar said.

However, more than two thirds (69%) of councils surveyed for the report say that the technology is much more difficult to roll out in rural areas when compared to urban locations. They say councils are reliant on temporary grant funding in delivering social care, and that there is a lack of knowledge on the tech currently available.

Three quarters (75%) of council leaders surveyed said the benefits of assistive technology were only partially being realised in their authorities, and a lack of funding and overlapping local health system boundaries were holding back further development.

The report also finds that “substantive cultural and practice change” is urgently needed to integrate the technology across whole local social care systems, as well as new training for staff so they feel comfortable using the technology.

Cllr Keith Glazier, Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said the opportunities provided by new technology will only be realised with the right conditions.

“The increasing potential for employing technology at scale and utilising data offers a tantalising possibility of having a significant impact on the way care is delivered; achieving better outcomes for vulnerable people of all ages, in a more cost effective way than more traditional models of care provision,” Glazier said, adding: “But this can only be done with the right settings in place.”

However, Simon Bottery, Senior Fellow for Social Care at the King’s Fund, says the report was missing examination of what service users themselves wanted from technology.

“The report needs analysis of what social care users really want from tech,” Bottery said on Twitter. “Saying that providers need to communicate existing benefits better is not enough: maybe tech needs to change too.”

The County Councils Network, a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association which represents England’s county local authorities, now says the Government should commit to a National Strategic Framework to make AT ‘mainstreamed’ as part of its long awaited adult social care reforms. It says the Government must also ensure that there is effective infrastructure for the technology in rural areas, including broadband and improved mobile network speeds.

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