Sajid Javid image
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid

An important new data strategy is prioritising technology in a set of ambitious reforms for the health and social care sector, which points towards expanding the use of assistive technologies to support independent living.

Called ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data’, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) strategy aims to create a secure and privacy-preserving system that delivers for both patients and professionals.

Its goal is to ensure patients receive faster and more innovative treatment and diagnosis, transform the way data is used to drive breakthroughs and efficiencies, and help to tackle the COVID-19 backlog and create a system fit for the future.

The data strategy will be followed by the publication of the digital health and care plan “shortly”, DHSC highlights, which brings together government’s aspirations for digital transformation for health and social care with an ambitious delivery plan.

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Overall, the strategy focuses on seven principles to harness the data-driven power and innovation seen during the pandemic to drive transformation in health and care, which are as follows:

  1. Improving trust in the health and care system’s use of data
  2. Giving health and care professionals the information they need to provide the best care
  3. Improving data for adult social care
  4. Supporting local decision-makers with data
  5. Empowering researchers with the data they need to develop life-changing treatments and diagnostics
  6. Working with partners to develop innovations that improve health and care
  7. Developing the right technical infrastructure

Below, AT Today has highlighted some of the key technology-focused ambitions from the data strategy.

Scaling up digitisation of social care

The major takeaway from the data strategy for the assistive technology sector is that a £25 million fund will be made available in 2022 to 2023 to scale up the investment and implementation of digital social care technology across England with integrated care systems (ICSs). This includes adopting digital social care records to ensure data is captured at the point of care and can be shared between care settings.

Integrated care records will enable smoother transitions between NHS services and social care, including quicker discharge from hospital, freeing up valuable space.

The £25 million investment follows a previous £150 million funding commitment to drive rapid digitisation in the adult social care sector.

Technologies like remote monitoring tools are already being used successfully to provide more targeted care, the strategy notes. The UK Government’s digital home care projects have used remote monitoring to support over 740,000 people with care at home, including care homes residents, improving their health outcomes and reducing the burden on the NHS, supporting clinicians as they focus on tackling COVID-19.

Currently, just under half of social care providers use a digital social care record and just under a quarter of care home staff cannot access the internet consistently at work. DHSC’s aim is for at least 80 percent of social care providers to have a digitised care record in place by March 2024.

Expanding use of assistive technologies within social care

To improve independent living in home environments, the data strategy encourages social care providers to adopt assistive technologies. Such technologies include room sensors, activity monitors and alarm systems.

By doing so, providers can offer 24-hour background support while enabling the individual to live independently and give unpaid carers and family members reassurance about their wellbeing and safety.

The strategy points towards Hampshire County Council as a best practice case study, which has used mainstream assistive technology as an integral part of its care packages.

It became the first local authority to trial the use of Amazon Echo technology to help older people live independently in their homes for longer. It provided 50 adult social care clients with a modified version of the device to remind individuals when to take medication or check when their carer is due to arrive, as well as connecting to other technology in their homes such as movement sensors.

Results from the trial showed that 72 percent of users believed the voice-activated assistant would improve their daily routine, with over two-thirds agreeing it would help maintain their independence. 62 percent of users also felt the device helped relieve their feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The council calculates that implementation of assistive care technology across the local authority area has saved more than £14 million in contract costs and through delaying admissions to residential settings.

Commissioners to have better access to up-to-date data

The strategy also details that it wants local and national decision-makers to have better access to sophisticated and up-to-date information to better commission services. By doing so, this will ensure a better preventative care approach, better development of policies, and better management of place-based health.

All of this is particularly relevant as England continues to push towards integrated health and social care with the establishment of ICSs, so that decisions about health and care are made and agreed locally.

To achieve better access to important patient data for commissioners, the strategy commits to integrating social care records into local shared care records within six months of a provider’s digital system going live. Based on current forecasts for digital rollout, this will mean 80 percent of providers will be integrated by September 2024, the strategy says.

Improved data sharing via the NHS App

The data strategy further wants to make the NHS App a “one-stop shop” for all health needs.

It will do this by giving patients greater access to and control over their data, including improving and the latest health information by November 2022. By December 2023, the strategy plans to roll out further app improvements, including giving patients the option to more easily request historic health records.

The strategy commits to a target of 75 percent of the adult population to be registered to use the NHS App by March 2024.

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