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The University of Lincoln is working with Lincolnshire County Council and Serco to investigate how everyday, affordable technology could soon be adopted to bring real benefits to the citizens of Lincolnshire and beyond

Serco, a specialist in delivering essential public services and healthcare, has created a new partnership with Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) and the University of Lincoln to investigate how modern and cost-effective assistive technology can be used to improve independent living for vulnerable adults.

The group’s work is focusing on how best to help people who might otherwise need assistive care or be moved into a care home. Both these choices are often emotionally distressing for those who want to be independent for longer and represent a significant financial strain on the care system.

Entitled ‘Social Care Technology Innovation for the Citizens of Lincolnshire,’ the initial research began in June and over the coming five months will carefully examine how modern, mainstream technology can be applied in innovative and non-intrusive ways to assist people’s social needs.

The final outcomes and recommendations will be submitted as an in-depth report on how services provided through Lincolnshire County Council might be improved. It is envisaged the research will be equally applicable to other local authorities in the UK.

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Ben Johnson, Serco Head of IT at its Lincoln-based hub, explained: “Serco already works closely with the council to deliver outsourced finance, payroll, contact centre services and IT support.

“The important questions we’ll now be considering are ‘how can mainstream technology support vulnerable adults, particularly those with cognitive challenges such as dementia, and people with disabilities to live independent lives?’ Also ‘how can we ensure people wanting to use this technology are not digitally excluded?’

“As part of this it’s vital that the project works closely with key stakeholders, including the vulnerable adults we are aiming to help, their families, local councillors and central-government grant bodies.”

Dr Salah Al-Majeed, Acting Head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, added: “This is a tremendously exciting project and we hope the end results will mark Lincolnshire out as a national leader in the use of innovative, digital technology to support and advance independent living for vulnerable adults.

“Our current research is looking at how low-cost consumer technology can provide highly beneficial solutions within a short timescale.

“These developments could, for example, include the use of smart-speakers and digital assistants, wearable technology such as smart watches, cameras and remote sensors.”

Dr Al-Majeed explained that the partnership is also exploring how smartphones, tablets and apps that are often developed for the general public could help people with dementia.

The partnership is further considering how assistive technologies can help with everyday living, enabling people to carry out day-to-day tasks that enhance their safety, and monitor things like health and cooking, bathing, memory, thinking, leisure and social participation.

“Our work is ultimately about using low-cost technology to prevent, rather than cure, and allow vulnerable and disabled adults to maintain as high a level of independence as possible,” Dr Al-Majeed continued.

“This could mean people being able to stay in their own home, using unobtrusive devices they are completely comfortable with. ‘Behind the scenes’ and invisible to the end-user, powerful technology such as ‘big data,’ predictive analysis, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) and smart-buildings could be combined to bring real benefits to the citizens of Lincolnshire.”

Councillor Wendy Bowkett, Executive Councillor for Adult Care and Public Health at Lincolnshire County Council, commented: “The focus on low-cost, high quality mainstream technology is vitally important, as is affordability for residents and local authorities in delivering the very best social care provision.

“Social care is a high priority for the county council. Based on current calculations, the county will need an additional 17,000 social care workers over the coming 15 years to adequately provide the necessary services, based on how these are currently delivered.

“It’s vital that we begin exploring new ways of ensuring high quality, cost-efficient support that tips the balance towards prevention, rather than cure.

“Existing technology offers the potential to detect and diagnose early warning signs and proactively alert family members, friends, social care workers or the emergency services, depending on the scenario. We’re very much looking forward to the outcomes of this project which will guide and future-proof emerging plans.”

Serco currently works with a number of local authorities to support various elements of council social care processes, including case management, financial controls and IT support. This initiative marks a valuable expansion of Serco’s activity within the social care and health arena.

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