Technological transformation

Alex Lawrence, head of health & social care, techUK sets out techUK’s Five Point Plan for CareTech.

In April 2023, the minister of state for social care highlighted decades of neglect in adult social care, calling for long-overdue action. Given alarming demographic trends and a frightening shortage of care staff, it is indisputable that technology must play a key role in the UK’s ability to address this neglect.
    
It was with this in mind that earlier this year, via our Social Care Working Group, techUK developed the “The Five Point Plan for CareTech”, setting out the transformational potential of digital, data, and technology across the care sector. The report delves into the critical challenges facing adult social care and underscores the revolutionary potential of technology-based solutions.
    
Addressing the pressing issues of an aging population and surging demand for quality care, the report envisions digital innovation as the catalyst for improving health-span, enhancing quality of life, and generating significant societal and economic benefits. Technology is the cornerstone for reshaping adult social care, enabling citizens to lead independent lives and empowering care providers to deliver personalised services.
    
As highlighted in the report by Sir David Pearson, chair of TEC Quality, and former president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), “there is now a groundswell of opinion that digital solutions can significantly benefit health and care in the third decade of the 21st century. People realise that technology helps to meet additional needs arising from demographic change and the demands this will place on health and care services.”
    
We were also honoured to have the endorsement of Clive Gilbert, senior policy and research manager at policy connect, who shared his personal experience accessing assistive technology through the care system: “When I was 15 years old, my life changed.

My special needs school referred me to the Communication Aids Project (CAP), a government programme that provided technology to help children and young people with significant communication difficulties (like me) access the school curriculum, interact with others and make a successful transition into adulthood.” Clive’s story highlighting how integrated services can have profound impact on people’s lives.

Making recommendations across five key areas, this report serves as a call to action for stakeholders across the spectrum, from policymakers and care providers to technology innovators and citizens, to come together and shape the future of adult social care through digital transformation.

Citizen-focused outcomes

Digital poverty and exclusion are currently significant barriers to the uptake of innovations that improve the provision of care. Understanding the national prevalence of these issues is a crucial first step. Following this, the government must seek to address digital poverty and exclusion by better coordinating efforts between government departments, in particular the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) and the Department of Levelling-Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC).
    
One solution that has been proposed for facilitating joined-up services is Citizen Health Accounts, put forward in the Hewitt Review commissioned by the Government. These would require health and care providers to publish relevant data held on an individual into an account that sits outside the various health and care IT systems. Although this is ambitious, it is already happening in pockets across the country, and we strongly urge government to investigate supporting the programme at a national scale.
    
Further to this, we must provide citizens with a clear overview of the technology available to them at a local level, creating digital libraries to provide clarity and support inclusion. The NHS App is already going some way towards providing this service, but partnership with providers of existing digital solutions across health and care will be crucial to ensure the App provides a comprehensive service.
    
Underpinning the report is the need to develop a clear methodology for co-producing technology-based care solutions. The TSA recently published Six Tips for Successful Co-Production, providing a great starting point for those looking to listen to the lived experience of people and their families.

Investment

Local authorities face challenges across the board, including navigating a complex and fragmented funding landscape, dealing with large increases in costs due to inflation, managing interest rate volatility, and addressing National Living Wage rises. It is crucial that, in tandem, the UK’s social care workforce is developed, and that this is backed by centrally driven support for technology deployment.
    
The recent NHS Long Term Workforce Plan recognised that “the challenges described are not unique to the NHS, and the NHS does not operate in a vacuum”, calling out the impact of “pressure in social care, which impacts patient flow through the healthcare system and builds demand by increasing the burden of disease and complexity of conditions over the longer term.” Despite this, there is no equivalent plan for the care workforce.
    
Investing in new digital skills in professional development pathways for both social care practitioners and the domiciliary care workforce would make the sector a more attractive place to work and grow. As such, the UK desperately needs a comprehensive training and development strategy for care workers.

Collaboration

There is widespread recognition that to improve outcomes and experiences for UK citizens, collaboration between the health and social care sectors is imperative. With the advent of “place-based care” as a popular concept, it has become clear that a more nuanced view of collaboration is necessary. Within a highly complex social care landscape, where the provision of care is the responsibility of over 18,000 different organisations, technology has the potential to drastically improve outcomes.
    
This report recommends that services should be redesigned around a whole-system approach where a case worker can oversee an individual’s needs, empowered by technology. It also emphasises the necessity for social care providers to be included as equal partners in the Integrated Care Strategies, for which ICPs have a statutory duty to create.
    
To further promote the collaboration we need, techUK called for the systematisation of best practice sharing, which is already happening in pockets across the NHS. Such changes would be unlocked by the removal of obstacles to budget pooling, enabling shared incentives across the NHS and care providers.

Data and interoperability

Recipients of social care often move between care settings, receiving primary, acute and domiciliary care. This means that capturing and sharing information with an individual, their family, and different services is crucial to providing high quality care. Better use of integrated technology and data that can follow citizens throughout their health and care journeys is a key ambition for the UK.

However, the ability to make this a reality is hindered by the complexity of the interoperability landscape. With long-standing debates around the definition of interoperability, and a continued lack of clarity concerning the mandating of standards, there is much confusion about how data can best be used to provide more effective social care. While progress has been made within the NHS in recent years, social care remains at an early stage in the interoperability and data journey.
    
The standardisation of data formats and terminologies, investment in IT infrastructure to update legacy IT, and a commitment to embed the principles of barrier-free data sharing and exchange, would significantly improve citizens experience of care.

Industry as a partner

Innovation cannot take place without true collaboration between social care providers and the supplier community. Ultimately, the shared ambition to improve outcomes for citizens should facilitate the breakdown of barriers and enable fruitful partnerships that improve the quality of care.

We urge the Government and public sector stakeholders to implement to address these challenges, many of which are fundamental financial and cultural issues. Currently, the public looks at social care through the lens of the NHS, and until we see a top-down change that places social care on par with health, radical system change is unlikely to follow.
    
Ultimately, techUK’s Five Point Plan is a call to action. We urge stakeholders to embrace technological solutions and transform the landscape of adult social care. By integrating technology, fostering collaboration, and addressing key challenges, it is possible to create a future where citizens live healthier, happier, more independent lives. But to get there, this ambitious undertaking requires collective commitment, innovative thinking, and the courage to build a new era of care for all.

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