Employing Assistive Technology in Adult Social Care report image

A new report released by the County Councils Network (CCN) calls for the greater integration of assistive technology within social care services.

According to the document, 75 percent of local authorities believe that the benefits of assistive technology are being partly realised within their council and that there is potential for further development. However, some cite that there are some significant barriers to embedding assistive technologies further into services, such as rurality, costs and a lack of knowledge.

Now, councils are calling for a new framework and funds to scale up assistive technology across whole social care systems.

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CCN believes that assistive technology should be a key aspect in the UK Government’s planned reforms for the social care sector to become mainstream in the delivery of adult social care services.

Entitled ‘Employing Assistive Technology in Adult Social Care’, the report, published in partnership with Tunstall Healthcare, closely examines the prevalence of assistive technology in county authorities, the support required to scale it up across the whole social care system, and includes recommendations on how to use assistive technologies to implement the proposed reforms of the adult social care sector.

Prepared by CCN, the report has drawn on a number of data and information sources including a survey of the CCN’s 36 member authorities, an expert roundtable comprising representatives of CCN’s member authorities involved in the strategic delivery of social care services, and a review of relevant literature.

The responses show that three-quarters of councils are reporting that the benefits of assistive technology are being partially realised within their authorities, almost two-thirds have an assistive technology strategy in place.

However, the report has found that whilst technology has been effectively used to improve care for vulnerable individuals, more can be done to place assistive technology at the centre of local adult social care, from using data, to aligning health and care monitoring systems together, as part of closer integration between health and social care.

Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare, said: “During the pandemic, social care service providers and users saw a rapid expansion of new forms of care delivery which has led to a need to rethink the ambitions and plans for social care and the digital agenda. The imminent reform of social care will only be successful in its aims of accountability, integration, and interoperability if it ensures that digital innovation is central to care provision moving forward.

“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.

“Galvanising the gains made during the pandemic will drive services towards digital-first care provision which sees significant benefits across the board. There has long been a missed opportunity to harness the potential of technology to transform the way we deliver care, and this has been clearly evidenced during the pandemic.

“In order to create a truly integrated health and care system, resourcing proven technologies and making their appropriate use standard practice is crucial to ensuring services are fit for the future.”

CCN member authorities have a unique geographical perspective with the report examining whether there’s a difference in the development of assistive technology strategies between urban and rural communities.

69 percent of county authorities surveyed as part of the report answered that assistive technology was more difficult to roll out in rural areas compared to urban locations, and with councils reliant on temporary grant funding in delivering social care, the report calls for the right settings so local authorities can ramp up their usage of assistive technology.  The majority of respondents also cited a lack of knowledge on the tech currently available.

Additionally, the report finds that substantive cultural and practice change is urgently needed to better integrate assistive technologies across the whole local social care system and move towards digital-first care provision. This includes training staff so they feel comfortable using this technology.

Cllr Keith Glazier, Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, commented: “For local authorities, the use of AT is not just about providing effective care for individuals, but is increasingly about developing and delivering innovation-led digital health and care solutions which provide new, more efficient, and effective models for health and care management in the community.

“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.

“But this can only be done with the right settings in place – and today’s report offers much food for thought as to how we can further embed AT in our local systems.”

The report also recognises that assistive technologies have the potential to not only assist individuals with their housing, health and social care needs but also to relieve pressures off local authorities and deliver cost-saving benefits for the government.

It reads: “The prime objective for AT has always been about supporting citizens with their housing, health, and social care needs. Nowadays though, the use of AT extends well beyond just individuals themselves. For local authorities it’s also increasingly about developing and delivering innovation-led digital health and care solutions which provide new, more efficient, and effective models for health and care management in the community.

“In short, the increasing potential for employing technology, using data, and aligning monitoring systems together, now offers a tantalising possibility of revolutionising the whole social care system, both delivering better outcomes for individuals and reducing costs for the state.”

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Ensure that social care reform includes a commitment to a National Strategic Framework for integrating assistive technology into social care.
  • Ensure there is appropriate infrastructure in place to enable assistive technology to be used effectively in all parts of the country.
  • Facilitate improved education and training for social care professionals to ensure they are confident in utilising assistive technology within their role.
  • Encourage greater co-creation of solutions through adult social care professionals and technology developers working collaboratively.
  • Ensure a long-term resource settlement for social care to enable better investment in assistive technology.
  • Ensure that social care reform considers how it can improve integrated systems of commissioning of assistive technology within health and social care, which could potentially be achieved via integrated care systems (ICSs).
  • As part of adult social care reform, the UK Government should commit to a National Strategic Framework to make assistive technology ‘mainstreamed’ as a key element of social care in the future, and make it clear how tech can be further embedded into councils’ delivery of this service.

CCN and Tunstall are also calling on the government to ensure that there is effective infrastructure for assistive technology in rural areas, including broadband and improved mobile network speeds.

The County Councils Network (CCN) is the national voice for England’s county councils. It represents 23 county councils and 13 county unitary authorities. Collectively, they represent 25 million people or 47 percent of the country’s population.

Technology-enabled care (TEC) specialist Tunstall Healthcare works with social care providers, healthcare services, housing and retirement living providers and charities in 22 countries, improving the lives of more than five million people, including those with dementia, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Tunstall Healthcare recently launched Tunstall Service Platform to support vulnerable people and the UK’s transition from analogue to digital by 2025. It has been designed to support the complex processes involved in accessing, planning and delivering care to vulnerable adults living in the community.

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