Steve Taylor, a care technology expert at PA Consulting image
Steve Taylor, a care technology expert at PA Consulting

Steve Taylor, a care technology expert at PA Consulting, discusses how councils can better deliver care technology for people with complex needs and autistic people.

As the accessibility of care technology and its integration into daily routines has increased, so too has demand grown across age groups. No longer is care technology confined to older people; it benefits individuals of all ages.

However, a recent survey of ASC leaders found that two thirds of councils don’t use care technology to support people with learning disabilities or only do so occasionally. This figure rises to 81 percent of councils for those on the autistic spectrum.

Councils have a significant opportunity to assist people with complex needs and autistic people in progressing towards more independent lives with care technology. Such solutions designed around the person, based on clear outcomes, can significantly reduce the cost of care. Our analysis suggests that implementing care technology at scale across the UK could deliver £400-600 million by 2028 – and that’s after deducting all costs associated with delivering the services.

These cost-saving measures are particularly important at a time when local authorities are grappling with funding shortages. Yet too often, care technology services are geared exclusively towards older populations and simply don’t work for younger people with complex and challenging needs. A completely different approach is therefore needed to support these needs and maximise technology’s impact on younger people and their families.

Understanding complex groups’ needs

As a first step, councils need to reflect on the different features of this cohort when commissioning or establishing care technology services specifically aimed at supporting groups with complex needs and autistic people.

For example, care technology solutions are often too stigmatising for young people who want to fit into their social or peer groups. In our experience of delivering care technology services to over 55,000 people, we’ve seen that personal alarms and support systems that are obtrusive or attract attention are often rejected in favour of more discrete options. It’s therefore important to consider people’s different needs and preferences so they feel empowered to use the technology.

Furthermore, support arrangements can vary greatly and grow with complexity as needs change. There is significant churn in the workforce supporting young people, so when trying to get buy-in and support to manage a package or technology, it can be challenging to identify the right people to advocate for them. Many more people, families, care providers, social workers, and the care technology provider need to work together to ensure the benefits of care technology are realised for the individual.

Care technology services often focus on the equipment and what it can do – rather than starting with the target outcome for the individual and how the technology’s success will be measured. However, starting with the latter, and breaking the desired outcomes down into goals and targets, can yield far better results when designing technology solutions for those with complex needs and autistic people.

We must focus on building skills that support the progression towards different outcomes later down the line, instead of offering just one solution that doesn’t change with the user. This may mean one type of technology is used at first and upgraded for more advanced solutions as the person develops. For example, personal GPS location units could be worn until the person is comfortable using apps or smartphone-based solutions to move around independently.

Culturally positive risk-taking done in the right way needs to be encouraged and supported by local support provider organisations, which can identify new opportunities for adopting care technology. These organisations should be treated as partners to councils and not just providers of a commissioned service. For technology solutions to work, they must be co-designed not only with users but with the support workers who will be relied on to maintain them.

Opportunities of getting it right

Overcoming these challenges is no easy feat. But getting it right can be hugely enabling for people using these services and help them make tangible progress towards greater independence. This can also reduce the need for formal care arrangements and help share care across individuals.

PA Consulting has led the Argenti Care Technology partnership with Hampshire County Council, an innovative approach to technology-enabled care, which offers advanced automated support to those in need 24/7. The partnership has supported people to travel independently for the first time, enter the workforce, maintain healthy relationships, and communicate and manage their own needs better.

For example, a 35-year-old man, once reliant on multiple daily carer visits, now thrives independently thanks to a smart speaker with video capability. Voice commands to his smart speaker replaced physical struggles, empowering him to shop, manage medications, and connect independently, reducing his isolation as well as care costs to the council. This is one example of how consumer technology is converging with the care technology sector.

In another instance, we helped a 16-year-old with epilepsy was severely restricted and couldn’t walk to school without his parents. Limited by their availability, his time with friends and solo adventures were constricted. However, a personal GPS-enabled device now allows him to confidently walk to school, reducing his anxiety and boosting his wellbeing.

Services should be focussed on progression goals for people, which may involve different equipment types, such as smart speakers or smartwatches that can be flexible as needs evolve. Services need to have the flexibility to go back and support the care providers to work with the technology.

In other words, councils should focus on delivering a wraparound service that works with all aspects of the care around a person. This works with care providers as partners, helping them upskill their technology capabilities to support people more effectively.

Getting this right isn’t just good for people but has wider implications for councils too, from cost-savings to improved resources. Done correctly, the benefits to the individual and cost of the care package around them can be large and lasting.

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