It was recently reported that complaints over social care in England have nearly tripled since 2010. This is no surprise to hear, as the social care sector has been struggling to cope with an enormous increase in demand against a backdrop of further cuts to councils’ budgets.
The system is fragmented, and in desperate need of revolutionary thinking to transform it into a more sustainable model that reflects our modern day and age.
We’ve seen too many short-term fixes to the social care industry’s ills, and with 2019 fast approaching there are some radical solutions we can hope to see emerge in the coming year.
2019, the year tech promises become reality?
After years of speculation about the potential of different tech products in the social care sector, 2019 could very well be the year where AI and IoT (internet of things) finally take off in a big way. In particular, there’s now a mature environment for AI to scale, which could offer a number of benefits to the social care sector. To-date, AI implementation has largely focused on younger, healthy smartphone users, dismissing those who attend A&E most frequently and use the most healthcare resources – the elderly. In a social care context, AI will start to answer increasingly complex questions about elderly patients or pre-empt more acute conditions such as chest infections and high blood pressure, allowing them to be caught early and acted on.
In a similar and complementary vein, IoT devices – whether that’s smart home products or wearables – will hopefully reach a critical mass in 2019 and start to become mainstream as more solutions become available and people increasingly recognise the benefits they can bring. In social care, IoT devices allow family members to monitor their loved ones and their environment remotely in real-time, meaning that a carer may not be required at the property 24/7 which could be hugely cost-saving. Devices are now able to do everything from monitor a patient’s heart rate and temperature, to checking their blood sugar levels, which is yet another example of how more acute conditions can be monitored and acted on quickly.
Another example of smart home technology that can benefit the elderly is voice recognition software, which should develop further next year, allowing access and control of devices normally controlled manually. For elderly people and those who struggle with mobility, using vocalised commands to access lighting, household appliances and doors can make a massive difference to their quality of life. Another benefit of smart home technology and wearables is that they enable users to become more autonomous and live in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
2019, the year to introduce a new model of care
Could 2019 be the year when the sector finally moves towards a new model of care? While currently local authorities tend to remunerate care providers based on hours worked, outcome-based commissioning would shift this metric in a more positive and accurate direction. Time is a poor measure of the service users receive and does not reflect the extent to which care empowers them to live well.
If care providers were paid based on the outcomes they achieved, they would be better incentivised to provide users with the care they need to thrive, considering how independent they are and how much care they actually need, whether that’s help with housework, support to wash themselves, care from a nurse to change bandages, etc.
However, a significant challenge of this model will be defining and measuring ‘outcomes’, especially across people with vastly different needs, such as those who require help with housework versus those who need to be given medication. As the NHS develops its 10-year plan outlining how its recent funding boost will be used, outcome-based commissioning should definitely be considered as part of this proposal. However, being able to clearly define and measure this will be equally as important to ensure funds are used as effectively as possible.
2019, the year to reach new carers
Britain’s social care crisis was recently branded as a national scandal, with a new report warning of a predicted shortage of 350,000 social care workers by 2028, which will lead to rising care costs. With the sector struggling to recruit and retain enough carers to meet ever increasing demand, one million people are already waiting to receive the care they need. Whether that’s supporting unpaid carers or recruiting the next generation of care professionals, more needs to be done.
One part of the desperately needed solution here could be supporting some of the millions of unpaid carers across the country, who may be providing informal care to family members or friends. If we can upskill these people to deliver a higher quality of care or equip them with the technology and devices required to make their job easier, this will ease pressure on the wider system. This could be in the form of an app that provides guidance and advice, or national care bodies developing training programmes – ensuring they have the relevant resources at their fingertips.
Secondly, to reach the large number of carers required to fill the gap, we need to widen the pool of potential candidates, and social media could be instrumental next year to reach people who may not have considered a career in the sector. Social media is an untapped opportunity when it comes to recruiting carers and can be a really engaging method of communication, which is why care providers should consider running campaigns via the likes of Snapchat and Instagram Stories. At Cera we’re already planning to implement this innovative recruitment model, whereby prospective employees can quiz real-life carers on all aspects of the job and apply directly from the app, streamlining the process and making it feel more personal.
Looking ahead to the New Year, it’s time to be ambitious about the change that can be delivered in the social care sector and I’m hopeful that technology will play a major role in addressing the significant challenges ahead.