The social care sector is facing enormous challenges and they are coming from all directions. We have the challenge of under-funding, a regulator that is becoming tougher and being joined by others such as the CMA, a pretty hostile media environment and of course the ever-present challenge of how to recruit and retain a skilled workforce.
If you saw these issues in isolation it would be a very depressing outlook for the social care sector, but thankfully, this negativity is completely outgunned by the level of vision, commitment, energy and innovation that is at the very centre of social care.
It is true to say that the world is changing at a hugely fast pace and all too often the social care sector has been slow to understand this changing agenda and to harness it for the benefit of our sector.
One area that has been particularly difficult for social care is the rise of technology and innovation. I often hear people talking about the fact that social care is a person-to-person sector and this means that it is difficult to implement technological solutions to some of our biggest challenges. I profoundly disagree with this assertion. It is absolutely true that people are at the very centre of everything that we do, but I believe technology, properly deployed, can make significant impacts on the quality-of-life of people who use care services, and also significantly improve the experience of the staff who deliver them.
In the past we have tended to use technology as a way of policing the staff. Local authorities who have been reluctant to fund services to the correct level have thought nothing of imposing technology as a way of monitoring care contracts. I believe it is much more important to start thinking about what care staff do to deliver outcomes, rather than how long they may be in a service, or with a person.
I have been so delighted to see how the technology revolution is starting to make a real difference to the quality of care which service users receive.
I recently saw a new system that was being implemented by a care provider and this was ground-breaking and did so many really sophisticated things that improved quality-of-life for residents.
This system was able to be flexed to be very individual and was able to do things such as provide smells and music that would enable people living with dementia to have a much better quality of life and experience less agitation. I was also recently in a learning disability service where technology has enabled the care provider to see minute by minute the quality-of-life and the delivery of the care plan which each resident had.
I believe that the future of our sector will be defined by both technology and data. If we are going to be effective and meet the challenges of increasing need, we cannot continue to use the same model that has served us for the last 50 years. Apart from anything else there will not be enough staff to run services in the way that we always have done, and if we continue to deliver a 20th century service it will be not be fit for purpose for citizens in the 21st-century who have more complex needs and higher expectations.
Despite the many challenges which social care faces I am optimistic about the future. This optimism is based in the dynamism, commitment and desire to improve, that the vast majority of care providers have at the heart of their practice. The people who thrive in the future will be the people who are proactive and willing to embrace change, using technology and data as an essential part of delivering high quality care and support.