Opinion Technology

Using technology to enhance social care

Dr David Howe

Dr Dave Howe, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull

The challenges of providing high-quality, sustainable social care are well-known to those who work in the sector and are regularly debated in the media.  An ageing population, workforce shortages and financial pressures have been present for years, and have recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (the impact of which will continue for years to come).

Technology has the potential to help social care providers rise to these challenges. Some technologies can directly enhance the quality of experience for service users through entertainment and stimulation, whilst others may improve sustainability and productivity by saving staff time and improving administrative efficiency. As many have discovered over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology can also provide a crucial means of remote communication between service users, family members and staff. For these purposes (and numerous others), investing in new technologies is likely to be critical for many social care providers in the years ahead.

The Social Care Innovation Programme (SCIP) is a project part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Northern Powerhouse, led by East Riding of Yorkshire Council and supported by the University of Hull. SCIP aims to identify and fund the implementation of technological solutions which can improve the quality, productivity, and sustainability of social care services.

The project team works with small and medium sized social care providers – such as care homes, domiciliary care providers or day centres – to establish areas in which technology could improve their services, before collaboratively identifying specific technologies which can be applied for via a fully-funded grant. Those care providers who are successful in receiving a technology grant then work with the University of Hull’s research team to evaluate the impact of the technology on the care service. By doing so, the project aims to build and publish an evidence base that demonstrates the way in which different technologies can impact on the delivery of social care services.

In all, the SCIP team intends to supply technology grants to a total of 74 social care providers by the end of the project in June 2023. Of those that have already received grants, some have opted for technology which provides entertainment and stimulation for their service users, such as ‘magic tables’, interactive touchscreens or sensory room technology. Others have invested in organisational tools which will allow them to save time and resources, such as digital audit tools or e-rostering and timesheet systems, replacing systems which were previously paper-based.

For some care providers, their most pressing technological needs have been more fundamental; they have stated a desire to switch from paper-based to digital systems, but have been prevented from doing so by issues such as poor WiFi coverage or a lack of hardware. To this end, some providers have used their SCIP grants to fund WiFi boosting technology, or secure essential hardware such as laptops and tablets. Some residential homes have invested in technology that enhances their physical infrastructure, such as electronic call bell systems or replacement of heavy manual doors with ones which open automatically.

This range of different projects has shown already that technological innovation in social care does not necessarily need to be about ground-breaking new devices that aim to completely revolutionise the sector; investment in more fundamental technologies can also make a huge difference to many care providers and those they provide care for.  As SCIP progresses, we hope to learn even more about the ways in which different types of technology can drive improvements in social care services.

For more information about SCIP, please visit our website at https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/research/case-studies/social-care-innovation-programme

The project is receiving up to £910,113 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.
Northern Powerhouse – The Northern Powerhouse is a key aspect of this Government’s approach to addressing the productivity gap in the North and ensuring a stronger, more sustainable economy for all parts of the UK. Alongside over €1.5 billion of European Regional Development Fund support for businesses and communities across the North, the government has awarded £3.4 billion in three rounds of Growth Deals across the Northern Powerhouse

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