The social care sector is facing a perfect storm. On the one hand we have serious underfunding and challenges to our sustainability because of staff shortages, and on the other, we are facing the prospect of huge increases in need.
Professor Carol Jagger, from the University of Newcastle, has recently predicted an enormous increase in the numbers of people who will need 24/7 long-term care services. We are struggling to keep up with current demand, so unless we radically change how we currently do things, we will never be able to meet the needs of the future.
Because social care is a people service, we have often been slow to embrace technology and we mistakenly think technology will do away with human contact and change the essence of care. In reality, our only hope is to use technology because we simply will not have the staff to meet future needs.
I am excited by the potential for technological advances in the care system, and I am particularly interested in the way in which technology can be used as a preventative mechanism, as well as to improve efficiency and productivity within the care sector.
Some years ago, I visited really brilliant care services that embrace technology and was using it as a way of proactively supporting people who live with dementia to have better lives. One of the things that this care home was doing was linking data from the individual to the medical and care team, so that subtle changes in a person’s health could be detected, and proactive medicine used before they entered a crisis.
Care is a much-regulated sector and we are increasingly under scrutiny, not only from the statutory regulatory system, but also from residents, relatives and the media. Technology gives us an opportunity to prove what we have done, and create a very clear and robust audit trail of our actions. I was recently in a care home, which had a very good way of recording interactions with residents and ensuring that these were delivered directly into the care plan. In the past, this was a big challenge for staff who were very busy and often distracted, so might forget things that needed to be recorded when they were doing it later in the day. Technology now gives us the opportunity to record our actions and interventions as they happen, this enables a very clear and robust audit trail and we can build up a picture of individual residents and the actions we have taken to support them.
The 21st-century will be one that is driven by data and the care sector must embrace this as soon as possible. We need to use big data to be able to plan and develop services for the future, and we need to use small data to ensure that our services are bespoke to the needs of the individual. Most large organisations in the world are now driven by data. Large companies in commerce, manufacturing and service delivery are now focused on what their data tells them and they plan services accordingly. The care sector must not be left behind in this revolution and we must be thinking about how we use data to make sure our services meet the needs of our population.
In recognition of the potential of data and technology in the care sector, the 2018 Care England conference will be focusing on data and technology. This conference, to be held on the 14th of November, will be a real opportunity to debate the issues and to ensure that the care sector is on the front foot and fit for purpose in the 21st-century.