Alyson Scurfield is Chief Executive of the TEC Services Association (TSA)
It’s a wonderful fact that people are living longer than ever before. The varied, joyful life of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was an example of this demographic change and it’s one that must be celebrated.
As people working in care, it is our job to enable individuals and their carers to live happy, fulfilling lives, doing the things they love, in the places they call home.
But there are a growing number of challenges facing us, week in, week out, as we try to achieve these outcomes.
With our older population expanding, so too does the proportion of people of all ages with multiple conditions, impacting quality of life.
There has also been a change in the ratio of people over 65 to those who can look after them. Back in the 1950s there were 7.2 people of working age for every person over 65. Predictions indicate that this will plunge to just 2.1 in 2050, putting a huge strain on human and financial resources.
This pressure is compounded by soaring costs for care providers, intensified by the pandemic and an increase in the number of younger disabled people accessing support.
We all know that a major reshaping of the way social care works is long overdue, and I believe that digital must play a central role. Greater use of technology and data in care, to personalise support for individuals and enhance their independence but also to relieve the administrative burden on staff and services is more critical than ever.
This was the driver that led my organisation, the TEC Services Association (TSA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to set up a Commission looking at how technology can be truly integrated into adult social care.
Experience told us that in the care industry, digital solutions are often bolted on to the side of services but rarely commissioned as an integral part of support.
Findings from the Commission confirmed this. From November 2020 onwards, we spoke to almost 60 people, including individuals and families, care workers on the front line, registered managers, council directors of adult social care and technology manufacturers.
Although we saw ad hoc examples of technology being combined with care, projects were rarely joined up or preventative. In the main we heard that councils and care providers aren’t maximising the technology available to enable people to live as independently and healthily as possible for as long as possible.
This is often down to infrastructure – poor internet connections or a lack of access to digital systems. But it’s also a skills problem, with many care workers and individuals lacking confidence and sufficient training to fully utilise the technology available.
Concerns about the risks of data sharing present another barrier, along with the challenge of how care staff should act on information from devices.
We also heard about solutions and services being chosen by care providers and councils for individuals and carers rather than co-produced in collaboration with them.
To tackle these issues, the Commission has set out a series of recommendations. We’re calling on Government to fund a ‘Personalised Care Innovation Programme’ with learnings from this two-year programme of 10 social care innovation projects to be shared amongst care providers and local authority adult social services to create a national, digitally-enabled care system.
We’re recommending that by 2025, NHSX should enable every person in England to control their own health and care records and that the Government includes digital training in its future social care workforce strategy. The Commission is also urging councils and providers to involve people and families much more in the design of digital care services.
Covid has illuminated the wonderful job that care workers do, tirelessly, up and down the country. But imagine how their impact could be enhanced even further through digital tools that connect easily with health, social care and housing colleagues; reduce the admin burden and free up their time so it can be spent meaningfully with the people they support.
Download the ADASS TSA Commission report on integrating technology into social care here