Robert Turnbull 30 July 2020

Care technology can no longer be a managed leap of faith

COVID-19 means adult social care can no longer continue to travel down the same road as in recent years. Almost overnight technology has become a greater part of all our lives. Councils have also invested more in care technology than ever before, driven by a need to rapidly reconfigure its workforce so that it can continue to provide care and support to the most vulnerable in society.

Care technology is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it is an absolute necessity for councils to design a new sustainable approach to delivering care and support to those who most need it.

The Local Government Association has estimated a funding shortfall for councils this year of at least £6bn. There is little prospect of longer-term central government funding, and there will be significant reductions in previously reliable revenue streams. To continue to invest in care technology councils will need to demonstrate the compelling and unequivocal financial case for care technology, rooted in evidence and positive outcomes.

How can councils harness sustainable value in their care technology investment?

The question facing councils is how can they harness the value of their care technology investment to deliver a sustainable approach to social care?

Technology enables is not change

First focus on people, communities and outcomes. Understand that technology on its own does not deliver change or better service user outcomes and t in the technology should come last not first.

At the start of the crisis, there was no time for the usual commissioning discipline. There is now a real danger that the rapid commissioning of care technology equipment will only ever be a short-term sticking plaster unable to support the sustainable transformation of adult social care. Stories are emerging across the country of councils commissioning care technology which never reaches the homes of the people who it will benefit the most.

To address this, councils need to start with the question, not the answer, with a clear focus on the outcomes you want to achieve not the technology you want to use. This approach allows new pathways to be co-designed around desired outcomes then ensures the technology solution supports it. The co-design should involve care practitioners so that it fits their ways of working; aligns with a strength-based approach to adult social care; and is accompanied by a programme of culture change and engagement that explains to practitioners the value of new the pathway.

Focus on the evidence to build your financial case

The next step is to focus on the evidence. ADASS, the adult social charity, surveyed adult social care directors and found only 4% of respondents are confident their budgets would meet their statutory duties this year – down from 35% in 2019-20. Councils can only continue investing in care technology solutions if there is a clear investment case. Yet all too often investment cases presented by eager technology providers fail to realise promised financial benefits and investment stops.

Councils have an opportunity to build their own evidence of the impact of care technology. They should ensure the data needed to measure the financial impact is designed into the pathway at the outset and captured and validated throughout. Measuring the financial impact at an individual level and aggregated up, allows the Council to fully reconcile, audit and realise savings. The approach should be owned by the council rather than those providing the technology ‘marking their own homework’. Frequent reviews should underpin the approach, don’t wait until the end of the year or contract to assess the impact retrospectively. Reviewed regularly, the insight should be used to optimise and focus the service to achieve even better outcomes.

Finally, recognise that the clock is ticking. As councils begin developing their COVID recovery plans for social care, care technology has a significant role to play. There is an imperative for the case for continued investment in care technology to be presented.

Focus on starting small, scaling fast and thinking big

Be bold and seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to redesign how adult social care is delivered, enabled through care technology at its heart. The past few months have shown that councils don’t need to wait for the ‘stars to align’ before making transformational change.

Councils’ response to the needs shielded cohort has proven that Councils can act quickly and deliver fantastic outcomes. Councils now need to scale up fast and deploy a programme of culture change and engagement that supports the rollout of care technology, so it is embedded and becomes ‘just the way we do things around here’.

An example is Hampshire CC's big idea to explore how cobots could help manage the challenges faced by care workers and informal carers supporting vulnerable people at this time. Through its partnership with PA Consulting, cobots were adapted to become part of the council’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The use of a cobot has shown that care for a person with complex needs which may have previously required two carers working together, can, in some instances, be delivered effectively by a single individual. This not only alleviates some social distancing concerns but will also help to make the social care system more resilient.

Moving beyond faith

In the past harnessing the transformational change of care technology has been described as a ‘managed leap of faith’. Faith is defined as ‘trust that something will do what has been promised’. Councils, faced with the biggest challenge to adult social care in a generation, no longer need to rely on faith, managed or otherwise. They have made their investment in care technology, so now need to pivot and focus efforts and resources on driving and releasing the powerful transformational change that it can bring.

Councils that do this successfully will be best placed to grasp this opportunity and create a sustainable approach to adult social care.

Robert Turnbull is a government and public sector expert at PA Consulting

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