The future of technology enabled care in local government
“A lot of healing took place. This is the kind of afternoon that makes my job worthwhile” – Key care worker
Much progress has been made in the sharing of information and development of infrastructure to enable local government, and the organisations that support them, to work together in delivering the best care. COVID has forced the issue. But there is much work ahead.
Technology companies like Microsoft are developing open interfaces to enable information sharing without the need for manual intervention. The breaking down of platforms such as Dynamics 365 to provide a more modular approach is reducing barriers to use. But with only 4% of directors of adult social care confident their budget is enough to meet statutory duties, what role can technology play when it comes to the future of social care and the levelling up of services across local government?
Lessons from the past
Councils have adapted to today’s challenges. Working hard to protect vulnerable people from risk of infection whilst making sure they continue to receive personalised care and support. To enable this, technology projects that may have otherwise taken years to finish, or even to get off the ground, were delivered in a blink of an eye. COVID removed inertia and accelerated investment as authorities scrambled to meet the needs of citizens in an altered world.
Councils are at the forefront of using technology to connect with people and sustain and enhance activities that keep them safe and well. Whilst progress is being made, councils continue to face extraordinary and ongoing funding pressures.
Beyond the edge of change
In a recent interview with County Councils Network Social Care Policy specialist, Jon Rallings, he iterated his belief that we’re seeing more than short-term change. “I think we’re seeing a revolution. Which is certainly helping people understand how we can lessen the challenge of distance”
Distance. A challenge compounded by isolating care workers, meaning resources become stretched as a finite number of staff cover wider distances to provide support. But what if priority dictated the allocation of resources?
Social care is one of those things where support is not always needed. And at the same time, delivering it can be expensive. It’s not possible to have care workers sitting on hand in somebody’s house all the time, for the fraction of time needed. Technology makes it easier for key workers, citizens, and the council to connect at the points care is needed.
Local Government has become a leader of change. With authorities looking at how far they can take the possibilities. This said, pushing the boundaries must also happen whilst being mindful of the skills of the intended user.
Giving carers much needed respite
With more people digitally aware, being able to give someone who has multiple sclerosis, access to an iPad attuned to turn on the light and adjust things, can make a big difference. It allows the carer or a loved one to pop to the shops for an hour and know their partner is not stranded or alone, able to take care of themselves.
This is a simple example where an easy-to-use app can make a big difference to the quality of someone who needs care. And also for the carer helping them. The citizen gains a level of freedom, whilst reducing the times somebody from the council needs to provide respite care.
Other – wackier – innovations, such as smart socks, relay health information back to the council. Authorities can then divide workers on a needs basis. Other monitoring systems can identify when somebody has fallen within the house, alerting carers to attend the site of the accident quickly. This helps avoid hospital stays and increased care needs.
This is of particular benefit when serving rural communities and remote coastal areas. Places that can make the delivery of social care difficult to coordinate. It can also make it more expensive as carers are having to travel greater distances. Technology solves this challenge by enabling councils to connect with citizens in a more proactive way.
Sharing of ideas will maintain momentum
Most councils operate in a siloed way. This allows each to cater services for the unique needs of their communities. And yet increasing collaboration will help one learn from the successes of another. Connected systems, able to talk across each other – allowing data to flow between – would make that easier.
When it comes to technology, Jon Rallings believes there is more to come: “We’re alert to the fact there are possibilities we haven’t scratched the surface yet.” But funding remains a principle barrier. “We need investment in this area so we can understand how to further use technology to help residents and citizens live their best lives.”
One of the challenges in improving collaboration is the number of different systems each council operates. This creates barriers to joint initiatives. Ideally, local authorities would develop a consistent approach to technology, so they can work together and share data. This isn’t to suggest all systems and approaches should be the same. That would not serve the specific needs of each council – the supplying of iPads for somebody with MS may be appropriate in one area, whereas giving an iPad to a group of people without Alzheimer’s is not going to have the same result in another – so you do need tailored services.
Another challenge to consider is having the infrastructure to enable smart devices to operate. And here a conversation around levelling up, which doesn’t include crude dynamics like north south, but which also looks at differences between different communities such as rural and urban, and broadband coverage, is important.
Adopting a business mindset
Jon believes that, by-and-large, people have grasped the world of digital tools, and that many local authorities have adjusted to support citizens using them, but there’s more to do.
To take advantage of technology, to deliver citizen services, and do so within a finite budget, councils must operate with a business mind-set. Just without profit as the driver. Instead, it’s citizen welfare that’s the focus.
Key to improving service delivery, connecting rural areas, sharing of best-practices and so on, is data. If not in the physical exchange as such, then at least in the learnings that data presents each authority. Learnings that, with a more collaborative approach, can be used to lessen the burden of service delivery, whilst enabling people to live their best lives.