Digital overhaul needed in social care, commission warns

Report calls on Government to fund social care digital innovation projects to embed technology in social care services

A new report makes a number of recommendations to improve the use of technology in social care services

Too few local authorities and social care providers are using technology to keep people safe, happy, and healthy at home, according to the final report of a commission exploring the issue.

Led by The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the TEC Services Association (TSA), the commission found pockets of best practice, but concluded that projects are rarely joined up and turned into intelligence to prevent people reaching crisis point.

Over the past five months, commission members have heard evidence from nearly 60 people, including individuals and their relatives who access social care support, frontline care professionals, directors of adult social care, housing and health leaders, and technology suppliers.

And they are now calling on the Government to fund a two-year programme of 10 social care innovation projects to begin the process of normalising the use of digital within social care.

Best practice from the proposed Personalised Care Innovation Programme will then be rolled out to all 151 local authority adult social care services in England to create a national, digitally-enabled social care system.

We hope the commission’s findings indicate how a digitally-enabled social care system can become a reality

The Commission also recommends that multi-year funding from central Government is needed for this country-wide deployment.

And it is urging ministers to invest £450m to replace current care and housing technology infrastructure, much of which is outdated and reliant on analogue phonelines.

The recommendations include that council commissioners involve people, their families, and carers much more in the design and co-production of digital social care services and they urge suppliers to work more closely with individuals when designing support apps and devices.

In the report, directors of adult social care are called on to make their services more pro-active and preventative by collaborating with service providers and manufacturers so that health and care data from apps and devices can be used by the social care workforce and carers to identify people with needs and put solutions in place before they reach a crisis.

The commission also recommends that, by 2025, NHSX should enable every person in England to control their own health and social care records.

And it calls on the Government to work in partnership to develop a Digital Inclusion Plan by 2022, ensuring no-one is excluded from digital social care because of low confidence around technology or a lack of access to equipment or a stable internet connection.

We are recommending that new, digital skills should be brought into councils, different tender specifications must be used, and that the Government futureproofs technology infrastructure through proper investment

In addition, major gaps in the digital skills of care professionals are outlined in the report, with a request that Government includes digital literacy and data sharing training in its future social care workforce strategy.

The report also asks Government to encourage health and care organisations to share data more, re-balancing the perceived risks around data protection.

The new NHS structure of integrated care systems should also be expanded, it says, to consider digital social care provision as well as digital health provision.

Iain MacBeath, strategic director of health and wellbeing at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and ADASS honorary treasurer, said: “Truly integrating technology with adult social care has eluded most parts of the country.

“There are some shining examples, but it’s rarely connected or pro-active.

“This commission has sought to understand why this is and how we can change it.

For people to be more confident and less reliant on adult social care and health services, we need to empower them through digital solutions

“And we are recommending that new, digital skills should be brought into councils, different tender specifications must be used, and that the Government futureproofs technology infrastructure through proper investment.”

Alyson Scurfield, chief executive of the TSA, adds: “Technology is vital to the future sustainability of care.

“For people to be more confident and less reliant on adult social care and health services, we need to empower them through digital solutions.

“Devices and apps can enable people to self manage their wellbeing and health, giving them choice and control, and technology also helps families and communities to develop strong connections.

“We hope the commission’s findings indicate how a digitally-enabled social care system can become a reality.”

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