The report, ‘Employing Assistive Technology in Adult Social Care’ from the County Councils Network (CCN) supported by Tunstall Healthcare, looks at the prevalence of assistive technology (AT) in county authorities and what can be done to both scale it up across whole social care systems, and maximise its benefits to people in care and professionals.
AT incorporates systems such as telecare, which uses wireless technology in the home to provide 24 support, and telehealth, which enables patients and clinicians to work together to monitor health remotely. Both systems enable care to be more targeted and preventative, and empower people to remain independent and well.
It finds that whilst this tech has been effectively used to improve care for individuals, much more can be done to place AT at the centre of local adult social care – from using data, to aligning health and care monitoring systems together – as part of closer integration between health and social care.
But with over two thirds (69%) of county authorities surveyed as part of the report answering that AT was more difficult to roll out in rural areas compared to urban locations, and with councils reliant on temporary grant funding in delivering social care, the report calls for the right settings so local authorities can ramp up their usage of AT. The majority of respondents also cited a lack of knowledge on the tech currently available.
Whilst 75% of respondents said that the benefits of AT were being partially realised in their authorities, and that there was potential for further development but a lack of funding and overlapping local health system boundaries were holding their authorities back.
As part of adult social care reform, the government should commit to a National Strategic Framework to make AT ‘mainstreamed’ as a key element of social care in the future, and make it clear how tech can be further embedded into councils’ delivery of this service. CCN and Tunstall are also calling on the government to ensure that there is effective infrastructure for AT in rural areas, including broadband and improved mobile network speeds.
Councils should have parity of esteem with health partners in Integrated Care Systems, to assist in an effective rollout of large-scale AT across health and care, and these bodies should keep within council boundaries as much as possible to reduce inefficiency.
The report also finds that substantive cultural and practice change is urgently needed to better integrate AT across whole local social care system, and in moves towards digital-first care provision. This includes training staff so they feel comfortable using this technology.
Cllr Keith Glazier, Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:
“For local authorities, the use of AT is not just about providing effective care for individuals, but is increasingly about developing and delivering innovation-led digital health and care solutions which provide new, more efficient, and effective models for health and care management in the community.
“The increasing potential for employing technology at scale and utilising data offers a tantalising possibility of having a significant impact on the way care is delivered; achieving better outcomes for vulnerable people of all ages, in a more cost effective way than more traditional models of care provision.
“But this can only be done with the right settings in place – and today’s report offers much food for thought as to how we can further embed AT in our local systems.”
Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare, said:
“During the pandemic, social care service providers and users saw a rapid expansion of new forms of care delivery which has led to a need to rethink the ambitions and plans for social care and the digital agenda. The imminent reform of social care will only be successful in its aims of accountability, integration, and interoperability if it ensures that digital innovation is central to care provision moving forward.
“AT is still sometimes viewed as an add-on or optional piece of care, but it must be mainstreamed and embedded into cultural change. Publication of case studies and good examples nationally, alongside national benchmarks, better training opportunities and an increased profile of the technology available would support more local authorities to invest.
“Galvanising the gains made during the pandemic will drive services towards digital-first care provision which sees significant benefits across the board. There has long been a missed opportunity to harness the potential of technology to transform the way we deliver care, and this has been clearly evidenced during the pandemic. In order to create a truly integrated health and care system, resourcing proven technologies and making their appropriate use standard practice is crucial to ensuring services are fit for the future.”
Key recommendations of the report include:
Notes to Editors: