The deliverance of in-home adult social care is under pressure from all sides and has been for some time. Strained healthcare systems have a growing need for individuals to stay independent for longer and for health solutions to become more flexibly administered in the home rather than in the hospital.
Equivalently, local authorities face the challenge of trying to support the elderly at home, while managing stretched budgets and effectively directing and deploying human resources.
Health and social care in the UK is frequently disjointed, creating challenges for the NHS, local authorities and for individuals in receiving both the care and support they need. The system and its leaders have long considered how new ways of thinking could help to support its drive for better care; ensuring the independent elderly are effectively supported in their homes for longer and lessening the growing pressures of more people entering and remaining in hospitals than can be sustained.
Caring for people in a modern age has become increasingly complex. Nowadays people live longer, with the ONS finding the age of the population has been growing continuously since 1986, the number of 100-year-olds in the UK has almost doubled since 2002, and we rarely have one ailment at a time. In turn, the increasing number of people relying on these services has now far outnumbered the ever-decreasing number of carers available.
In answer to this, advancements in technology and research into the ways it can benefit care management has taken priority for many of our institutions and recognition of technology as a means of more effective resource management is now becoming widely accepted. However, in a traditional 'people/patient' focused environment, achieving the full engagement and support of the spectrum of executives and staff involved in the service delivery is complex. This can have a detrimental effect on implementation timeframes and as such the realisation of its true benefits.
Some view the combining of social care and healthcare budgets to be a solution to achieving cohesion in service provision, which by extension would support the offering of technology enabled care and allow it to be implemented in a more streamlined manner.
The benefits seen from embracing technology within healthcare have too, been extensive and it is increasingly documented as our, and perhaps the only, solution for the future. Innovation has gradually brought about a generation of people with self-care opportunities at their fingertips and the freedom to access solutions wherever they may be.
That said, technology is still often viewed with apprehension by the older generation, highlighting that the importance of cultural change is just as key as developing the technology itself. Healthcare experts and families of the elderly need to take on a critical role within this, through educating their loved ones on the ways they can be healthier and happier whilst also living independently; and is thus seen, as a mutually beneficial solution for both our infrastructure and the people within it.
In the home, solutions like alarm services and fall detectors - which automatically call for help if needed - could become commonplace, ensuring not just that people stay safe but also that they have confidence to be at home alone. Prescription advice and 24-hour health support can be administered at the press of a button rather than having someone await an appointment or escalate an issue to the hospital when it could be solved quickly with the help of an accessible expert.
We have seen that when technology is utilised it becomes a tool for reuniting people with their independence, but also relieving the pressures on our healthcare facilities and staff who simply cannot cope with the increasing demand placed upon them. We understand that with all technological advances, solutions don’t replace human interaction, but simply make it more efficiently accessed when required.
So how can local authorities steer a course through this changing tide of care? As identified, local authorities are increasingly finding themselves stretched in both budget and resource, however by expanding the use of innovative technology, they can easily prevent a crisis before it happens or support the recognition of a problem faster than personal assessment alone. It is therefore evident, that with a more unified approach to health and social care in the UK, there could be, and will be, a greater return for those needing and providing support.
Richard Turner is managing director of PPP Taking Care