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How Proactive Care Gave Me Back the Dad I Used to Know

I come from a big family in Newcastle. My dad, Albert, a former engineer, was always our ‘go-to’ person. Whatever your problem, he’d help out. He also cared for my mum, Elizabeth who has osteoporosis.

Back in 2017, my dad was diagnosed with dementia. Very quickly life changed. He lost his driving licence and wasn’t able to go out and chat to neighbours on his own. He became withdrawn, depressed and started having mini strokes. In just five months, dad was taken to A&E seven times, and he went to respite care for eight weeks.

Dad told us he didn’t know the date, the weather forecast or the news headlines. He wanted something to talk about.

We were all desperate to help.

Pretty quickly we found a digital programme for his tablet that reminded dad to listen to his favourite tracks. Images popped up of today’s weather and his grandchildren’s holiday snaps, giving him the confidence to chat with them. When my nephew came over, they’d both play online games together. A small device in his shoe tracked his movements, and he started walking around the block again.

The results were noticeable. In the first 18 months of coming out of respite care, my dad didn’t once go to A&E. He was brighter, chattier and more engaged. But it wasn’t the technology alone that slowed dad’s illness. We had listened to what he wanted and used digital tools to empower him, integrating them with everything else that was important in his life – having independence, being at home, socialising with neighbours and feeling valued as a father and granddad.

This, for me, is the key message from the government’s new social care white paper. The needs and aspirations of individuals and their families must be at the heart of care.

Over recent months I have worked closely with Government to develop the technology section of this white paper. As chief executive of TEC Services Association (TSA), the industry and advisory body for technology enabled care (TEC) services in the UK, I sat on the Government’s Technology Advisory Group, representing the telecare service providers, suppliers, housing associations, emergency services and social care commissioners I speak to every day.

This position has allowed me to shape the agenda around digitalising social care and ensuring an overarching principle runs through white paper policies.

That principle is this. Using the full potential of technology to support people’s lives does not begin with technology, it must always begin with the person – the place they want to live, the people they want to be with and the activities that matter to them. A digitally enabled social care system will only work when it is co-produced by the individuals who use it.

We know data and digital tools can support independence, wellbeing and self-care. Covid threw that into sharp relief, showing the power of remote monitoring, self-management health apps and low-level tech such as video-calling – something we documented in TSA’s Sector Insight Report, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care in July 2020.

As we identified in our joint Commission with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services earlier this year, technologies can also be used preventatively, identifying people with needs and putting solutions in place before they reach a crisis. They can improve the quality and safety of care and allow greater collaboration across health and care systems.

But technology also enables conversations. And it’s the role of digital in facilitating these conversations, equipping people with the confidence and access to select and feedback on their care, that increases choice and control and helps care professionals to personalise the support they provide.

I welcome the Government’s commitment of £150 million in additional funding to encourage greater adoption of technology and widespread digitalisation across care and support.

I also welcome the launch of a new scheme to test caretech ideas, scale those with proven benefit and build the case for change.

What’s now needed is a staged implementation programme that translates these goals into consistent and coherent action across the country. TSA is standing ready to convene the care providers, commissioners and UK-based innovators it represents to ensure the Government’s vision of embedding personalised care is realised, once and for all.

Alyson Scurfield is CEO of TEC Services Association (TSA)

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