We are in challenging times and whilst this is always the case in social care and health - the circumstances are unique in living history.
There are longstanding issues of reform in social care and health, particularly around who pays for social care and overall funding levels, alongside the need to integrate services so we can better meet the needs of a changing population.
The seismic impact of the pandemic, where hard-won advances to gain control of the virus and its impact can only result in (at best) a reduced level of risk, will be with us for years to come.
At the same time there is an opportunity we must now seize to ensure the legacy from these troubled times is radical change and improvement.
The increasing use of digital technology means that we all have the opportunity to better control our immediate environment including understanding and responding to our care and health needs. Solutions that support this no longer need to be specialist, standalone responses but part of “the internet of things”.
They will enable people to:
Use real-time data and information to enable rapid, person-centred responses to changing need - typically referred to as population health management.
Communicate with services (and between services).
Be empowered so they are in control and as independent as possible.
Spot care needs early on and put support in place to prevent health and wellbeing deteriorating.
What will this take?
The White Paper and its translation into policy with resources (money and people) would enable a coherent and sustained approach to improving and developing the use of technology in adult social care across the country. The new health and care strategies - now the responsibility of Integrated Care Partnerships - are an opportunity to ensure this is embedded locally.
Of course, this only works if there is true co-production with people who use services, focusing on what they really want to achieve – not what we think their needs might be. Social care professionals and tech innovators must share power and decision making equally with individuals and families, listening to their aspirations and then collaboratively putting plans and initiatives in place. Technology is not the only solution here, but part of a range of services designed to meet people’s needs and wishes.
There also needs to be continued learning and development for all concerned about what technology can and cannot do – and how it fits within a person-centred approach. This is about giving people and families access and skills so they can easily find and use technology that provides the right care, in the right place at the right time. But it’s also about making sure the care workforce is confident they have the right digital knowledge and tools to support people.
Importantly, we need to ensure that these developments happen in a way that is safe and effective - that they stand the quality test. As the Chair of TEC Quality which has the only externally validated technology enabled care quality service framework in the UK, I would say this wouldn’t I? But as users of services, providers and commissioners, we have a responsibility to ensure that exciting and liberating developments are safe and sustainable.
I look forward to seeing the Government’s social care technology blueprint over coming months and also to working with individuals who draw on social care, plus key partners in the digital and care sectors, to begin delivering this ambitious change programme, putting people firmly at the heart of care.
These are exciting times. We have the opportunity to make a real difference to the quality of social care and health services if we seize the day.