The landscape of adult social care is changing rapidly. An ageing population coupled with rising citizen demand has already increased government spend on adult social care by £1.6bn since 2014. In 2018/19, 841,580 adults received publicly funded long-term social care, and there were 223,605 episodes of short term care. Despite these rising figures, it’s estimated that just 25% of those who request social care will actually get it.
Set this against a backdrop of a global pandemic, and it’s easy to see the significant challenges the sector is coming up against. Local authorities and their social care departments are already stretched thin by austerity and lack of resources – problems which the pandemic has exacerbated. In addition, COVID-19 has led to healthcare and local government organisations reassessing how they interact with citizens – with face-to-face care being limited for many.
With that in mind, there’s a clearer mandate than ever for digital transformation in adult social care. Here are some examples of technologies and innovations and how they could improve care and access to care in a post-COVID society.
Digital interaction and IoT
In times where regular face-to-face contact may unfortunately not be possible for everyone, those who are not self-sufficient must obviously be prioritised. However, even for those who can manage essential daily tasks such as getting themselves up, preparing food and bathing, social interaction and some level of monitoring is very important.
Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are already being used in some local authorities to track individuals’ daily routines, and alert carers if something is amiss. Knowsley Council use a system called Just Checking which does exactly that, enabling independence in working-age and older adults who are still self-sufficient but require some care. Other technologies such as video calling, which has been widely used in pandemic particularly in healthcare, can be essential tools in providing mental health and wellbeing support for self-sufficient but vulnerable adults.
Every organisation in every sector has had to revisit and accelerate their remote working policies during COVID-19. It does seem to have highlighted that many had the capability, but not necessarily the policy or the strategy to make it widespread. According to digital self assessment, around 90% of councils already provide secure remote access to key care systems as of 2016.
Better equipping frontline staff for mobile working is an essential part of transforming adult social care. Staff should have access to all of the relevant information and therefore be able to provide the best possible care no matter where they are. And as we move into a future where for the majority remote working could be the norm, enabling better connectivity and mobility for remote and field workers could lead to cost savings for local authorities, as they may find they will be able to repurpose premises and council buildings with a more commercial focus.
Automation and robotics
We mentioned the use of IoT sensors earlier in this article – sensors are already being used to prompt human intervention. Perhaps looking even further into the future, combining IoT with automation and robotics will be an innovative way to deliver care.
There are already studies into the feasibility and effectiveness of robotics in providing at-home care. Projects like CHIRON – which uses a set of modular robotics systems distributed throughout the home to provide care, or devices like Obi – a robotic arm which enables people with disabilities to feed themselves independently.
Outside of robotics, there’s automation. AI can be used to streamline and automate back-office processes to improve efficiency and interaction with service users. Automating admin-heavy processes like data entry could help frontline workers to spend less time on admin and organisational processes and more on delivering great care. These kinds of automations may also be able to aid with the application and assessment process – ensuring that less individuals slip through the cracks because of time and resource challenges, and helping to raise the number of people who access the care they need.
As technologies become more available, accessible and widely adopted, the opportunities for transformation in social care will increase. New challenges continue to arise – and local authorities in partnership with healthcare providers should be at the forefront of understanding how cutting-edge technologies can improve care and access to care in their communities.