Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England
These are extremely challenging times for the social care sector, and we have to think differently about what we do and how we can improve our efficiency and deliver better outcomes, often with fewer resources. Social care is on a burning platform, and it is incumbent upon us all to think about how we ensure that the services we provide, which are vital to the people we support, are maintained and developed. Nothing should stand still, and we have to think creatively about how we craft services that are fit for the future.
We are fortunate that we have this burning platform at a time when we see the rise of technology, and there are new and innovative systems that can really make a difference to the care sector. That is not to say we do not recognise this is a person-centred sector, but there are so many things that we currently do manually that if we harnessed the value of technology, we could do so much more efficiently. I am also of the view that whenever we consider new technology, we should be really clear about what it is going to achieve. I think there should be three distinct measures to enable us to decide what technology works for the sector. The first is the person’s experience. How does the person using this service get a better experience due to technology? Does technology give people more choice, autonomy and control in their lives, and does it give them more power to control their own decisions? Secondly, we must be clear that this technology delivers some tangible outcome. These could be in social care, medical, or quality of life, but there has to be some improvement delivered by the advent of technology. Thirdly, I want to see technology that improves the efficiencies within the care sector. I was always disappointed that our sector did not embrace the productivity challenge when it was set by the Government, but we do need to recognise that with a staffing crisis, we have to improve our productivity levels where possible.
Technology is only one way where we could think more creatively about how the sector works. The enormous challenges of getting staff into a sector also need some creative thought if we are going to solve this enormous problem. I think we need to look at many groups who currently are not in our workforce and try to attract them into careers in social care. Many ex-carers or semi-retired people would love to have a role in social care if only our employment practices were flexible. In future, we need to think about career structures but also acknowledge that people may want to dip in and out of a career in social care, and we must ensure our systems are as flexible as possible to encourage these people back into the workforce.
Over the years, I think there has been a degree of lazy commissioning by local authorities, which could also account for the fact that there has been little movement in the development of new services. Our sector cannot allow lazy commissioning to be the excuse for lazy provision, and we have got to see creative and innovative ways of delivering care. In many areas, there are significant numbers of people supporting somebody living with dementia in their own homes, and there is an opportunity for residential care services to become the hub for the management of dementia and other long-term conditions. I would like to see the development of new services available to residents in care homes and people in the local community. If we get this right, we not only deliver a range of new services, but we also create a connection with the local community, which will also help us when we have vacancies in our residential care services.
There are some real gaps in service, which I believe we could be responding to. There are increasing number of people living with dementia who have behaviours that challenge nocturnal patterns of life. Our sector needs to think about how it can craft some night support services and emergency respite provision so that carers are properly supported and can look after people much longer at home.
These are challenging times, but if the sector is on the front foot and leading the charge with innovative and creative new ideas, and if the sector embraces technology and the use of data for planning purposes, I believe we will have a bright and long-term future.
Professor Martin Green OBE
Chief Executive, Care England