Lack of digital social care offered by councils means practitioners are missing out, says commission
Not enough local authorities or care providers are using available technology within social care to keep people safe, happy and healthy at home, according to the final report of a commission exploring the issue.
Led by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the TEC Services Association (TSA), the commission found pockets of best practice but concluded that projects are rarely joined up and turned into intelligence to prevent people reaching a crisis.
Over the past five months, members of the commission have heard evidence from nearly 60 people, including individuals and their relatives who access social care support, frontline care professionals, directors of adult social care, housing and health leaders and technology suppliers.
The final report includes plenty of case studies where using digital social care solutions has led to improved outcomes and cost-savings for councils and NHS Trusts.
The commission is now calling on the UK Government to fund a two-year programme of 10 social care innovation projects to begin the process of normalising the use of digital within social care.
Best practice from the proposed ‘Personalised Care Innovation Programme’ will then be rolled out to all 151 local authority adult social care services in England to create a national, digitally-enabled social care system. The commission recommends that multi-year funding from central government is needed for this country-wide deployment.
Alyson Scurfield, CEO of TSA, commented: “Technology is vital to the future sustainability of care. For people to be more confident and less reliant on adult social care and health services, we need to empower them through digital solutions.
“Devices and apps can enable people to self-manage their wellbeing and health, giving them choice and control, and technology also helps families and communities to develop strong connections. We hope the Commission’s findings indicate how a digitally-enabled social care system can become a reality.”
The commission is also urging government to urgently invest £450 million to replace current care and housing technology infrastructure, much of which is outdated and reliant on analogue phonelines.
It recommends that council commissioners involve people, their families and carers much more in the design and co-production of digital social care services and it urges suppliers to work more closely with individuals when designing support apps and devices.
In the report, directors of adult social care are called on to make their services more proactive and preventative by collaborating with service providers and manufacturers so health and care data from apps and devices can be used by the social care workforce and carers to identify people with needs and put solutions in place before they reach a crisis.
Additionally, the commission recommends that, by 2025, NHSX should enable every person in England to control their own health and social care records.
It also calls on the government to work in partnership to develop a Digital Inclusion Plan by 2022, ensuring no-one is excluded from digital social care because of low confidence around technology or a lack of access to equipment or a stable internet connection.
Iain MacBeath, Strategic Director of Health and Wellbeing at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and ADASS Honorary Treasurer, said: “Truly integrating technology with adult social care has eluded most parts of the country. There are some shining examples, but it’s rarely connected or proactive.
“This Commission has sought to understand why this is and how we can change it.
“We are recommending that new, digital skills should be brought into councils, different tender specifications must be used, and that the Government future-proofs technology infrastructure through proper investment.”
Major gaps in the digital skills of care professionals are outlined in the report, with a request that government includes digital literacy and data sharing training in its future social care workforce strategy. The report also asks government to encourage health and care organisations to share data more, re-balancing the perceived risks around data protection.
In addition, the commission recommends that the new NHS structure of integrated care systems (ICSs) considers digital social care provision as well as digital health provision.
Rafael Bengoa, Chair of the Commission and Co-Director of The Institute for Health & Strategy in Bilbao, added: “Care professionals have saved many lives during the pandemic, but this crisis has exposed the need to reconfigure the system they work in.
“Investing in new approaches to care and technology will not only support the recovery process after Covid, it will also help to reform social care more widely and create future resilience. I also believe this Commission’s report is relevant for many countries in Europe and beyond.”