01 February 2016

How technology can maximise effectiveness of social care budgets

Money spent on social care for the elderly has fallen by £1.1bn in the past five years, despite a rise in demand. Only nine per cent of those over 65 receive any help as they get older, a decrease of more than 40%, whilst the number of retirees has grown by 16%, accorded to Age UK.

Older people receiving home care fell by just under a third between 2010/11 and 2013/2014, whilst day care places plummeted by 67%. In the same period, the number of elderly receiving vital equipment and adaptations to help remain safe at home dropped by 42%.

Therefore the stark reality is that every day, hundreds of thousands of older people in the UK are left to battle on alone without the care and support they most desperately need.

Councils have tackled this by personalising budgets to enable flexibly in provision whilst being more efficient, introducing community schemes to focus on better social outcomes and joining up social care, health and third sector organisations to deliver better integrated solutions.

This has resulted in some innovative use of creative technology. Suffolk and Birmingham Councils, for example, have set up an organisation to encourage elderly residents to join in an active living programme, which aims to get older people more involved in their local community. In addition, Suffolk council has invested in a portal to connect elderly users with each other via a befriending service.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich has combined with the NHS locally and the third sector to develop an integrated health and care service, which includes teams of nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists who respond to emergencies at care homes, A&E and GP surgeries.

Indeed, in my own time as Leader of Havering Borough Council, I introduced personalised budgets and launched the ‘Active Havering’ programme, which is still available to elderly residents.

This focus on innovation and ageing is exemplified in the new National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation (NASI) in Newcastle. It is leading the UK’s efforts to improve the health and well-being of older people by developing new technologies and services to support them as they continue to live in their own homes and remain socially active for as long as possible.

The public sector, particularly in the arenas of health and technology, will benefit from the research commissioned and the products developed by commercial companies as crossover technology. Obviously innovation around health has a big part to play here but innovation around ageing is more to do with living well than simply being well.

The integration of health and social care allows for technologies, which can deliver real benefits for the elderly citizen while helping with budget challenges.

November CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) and continuing austerity, brings with it inevitable challenges for the struggling finances of local government, technology is the key to ensuring that the solutions already benefitting our older citizens in Suffolk, Birmingham and Greenwich can continue.

Michael White, local government partnership director, BT Global Services

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