By Ralph Cook, Channel 3 Partner.
As we know, social care is a sector built on the hard work and dedication of the people within it. Whilst technology has lessened the burden on staff across many other industries, such as retail and travel, the care sector is still to enjoy its digital revolution. Is now the time for social care to experience the benefits of large-scale digital transformation?
The promising news is that over time I have witnessed, through working with government and public health bodies for decades, a recent and distinct shift in mindset. Discussions around digital-first solutions and data-first approaches are finally on the table with serious intent, funding is becoming available, and the opportunities are unique.
COVID-19 put additional stress upon resources that were already stretched. Whilst it brought into sharp focus the challenges in the current system, it has also revealed a sector and population that has proven it can adapt at pace and at scale to meet incredible challenges. People have discovered the advantages of a digital-first approach to their daily lives, from virtual meetings to online shopping and digital payments.
Embracing digital in social care could be the guiding light that bolsters the sector through its current challenges, whilst creating the platform for a healthier and happier population in the future.
The pressure from the pandemic, and the forecast levels of future demand and acuity, are highlighting the workforce challenges associated with a traditional, predominantly people-led, approach to care. This was brought under the spotlight recently in the first part of the BBC documentary Inside the care crisis with Ed Balls. There is, however, a recent realisation at all levels, from national to local and frontline, that a hybrid people/technology approach could unlock many benefits to staff and people in care.
Attitudes towards technology across the nation are shifting. Health and care system leaders are demonstrating genuine ambition to deliver digital change, not just in small pockets but at scale. This could be a real turning point for a sector that does not simply require more people, but a new approach to digital strategy.
By utilising technology to support staff, the capacity to focus on care is increased. It also enables social care to get ahead of its unique challenges and implement pre-emptive solutions. Smart home solutions like sensors and personal assistants, for example, can reduce the need for acute care whilst improving day-to-day lives. The opportunities to build independence for those in need are extensive and exciting. Literally life-changing!
So it is with relief that the digital opportunity within our grasp has been recognised and permeates through the recent Adult Social Care Reform White Paper ‘People at the Heart of Care’. Although frustration remains regarding the inadequate funding available to deliver this ambition, at least the future vision for a digitally enabled sector is finally front and centre of thinking. Together with the NHSX’s delivery plan, there is now greater clarity regarding the digital priorities and key milestones that the sector must deliver. Nothing like deadlines to focus minds and drive delivery!
However, we mustn’t forget that the driving passion of everyone in the sector is to improve people’s lives. It is time to reassure the workforce that digital technologies will enhance both the provision of care for those in need and the lives of those working in the sector.
Families use tools like video chat to a much greater degree to stay in touch during periods of isolation throughout the pandemic. Now, we can assess other ways that technology can solve day-to-day challenges of health and care. Maintaining independence is critical to mental wellbeing, mental capacity and physical frailties. So, a simple tool such as automated reminders to perform daily tasks can considerably increase a person’s quality of life and wellbeing.
The key to success will be to mirror the sector’s passion with a people-first approach to design and delivery. Care staff and those in receipt of care will then feel listened to, understood and supported. Dumping technology on the doorstep of staff simply causes additional work and stress. Developed and delivered correctly, well-implemented digital solutions can give staff more time to devote to care, which will lead to improved outcomes.
The sector is primed for reform. We are now collectively ready to unlock the advances in digital technology and data to transform the lives of those invested in social care. This transformation solves an issue wider than just improving the health and care sectors. Ultimately, keeping people healthy at home benefits the entire population.
The time to act is now — people, families and carers are demanding more innovative support that increases opportunities for self-care. Political members and council executives (CEXs) are seeking more digital ambition. Top-down funding is being made available to help drive the delivery and execution of this people-first digital strategy.
Under these transformative conditions, our role at Channel 3 Consulting is to help leaders deliver technological change through effective engagement of frontline staff and the people in need of support. Our purpose is to help system leaders and frontline staff understand how to optimise the use of digital technology to help support better lives and better care. This will improve outcomes, simplify delivery at scale, realise the required return on investment, and, ultimately, deliver a sustainable model of health and care. One that meets the rising levels of demand and acuity.
I foresee the beginning of an exciting new era for social care: one that uses digital and data to further enhance our already exceptional levels of care.
Ralph Cook has over 20 years of consulting experience within the public sector, more recently specialising in designing and delivering complex transformation programmes across health and social care.
Before joining Channel 3, Ralph held positions at Syntegra, BT Global, PwC and latterly IMPOWER where he was the national lead for Adult Social Care and the interface with Health. In recent years Ralph has helped the sector pioneer thinking in the areas of demand management, sustainable change in complex systems, behavioural science and intermediate care. Ralph is passionate about working with the public sector to tackle the most complex problems and improve lives.