The role of technology in mending a broken healthcare system
The Government’s new Health and Social Care levy was hailed by some as a silver bullet for the UK’s healthcare system but look beneath the surface and it’s merely a short-term fix. The £36bn investment generated by the new 1.25% levy sounds good in principle though is more akin to pouring a cup of water on a volcanic eruption and hoping the heat will die down.
Just an initial glance at some of the figures elsewhere are testament to that. Local authorities who provide social care will receive an average of around £11.6 million per year from 2022. However, with the average deficit amongst councils’ health and social care budget coming in at a staggering £14.3 million per annum in 2022, this new investment won’t even shift them out of the red.
With the new levy principally a recovery plan for the NHS, the social care sector will receive just £5.4 billion of the overall investment. However, the reality is that they will need £11 billion a year until 2024 just to meet the growing demand.
The hike in National Insurance to fund the levy will also hit low wage earners the hardest. And, in a low paying sector, where diminishing resource is a stubborn and deep-rooted challenge, it has the potential to drive many care workers to seek employment elsewhere, which is further exacerbated by the impact of Covid and Brexit.
A sticking plaster on an open wound
Where the Health and Social Care levy really fails is in addressing the more systemic and long-term issues at the heart of our social care system. The government is throwing money at the problem, without implementing much-needed reforms that properly address the real ongoing issues in the sector such as low pay, staffing and recruitment challenges, and unsuitable working conditions. Put simply, it’s a band aid on a mortal wound, having little effect when you consider the transformation needed within the social care sector.
The irony in the primary focus of the levy being on health care is that social care is, in many ways, the guardian of the NHS. It helps people to stay well and keep them out of hospital. By looking after the majority of people outside of the health system, it will allow better care to be provided more effectively for those who actually need hospital treatment, ensuring a more efficient use of available beds.
Clearly, the urgency to improve health and social care capacity has not abated, and at some point, there is going to be a need to cut off the head of the snake to realise a new and better future. This is where technology has a profound role to play.
Social care technology is on the rise
Technology can play a huge part in mending the broken health and social care sector by supporting a better and more efficient way of delivering care. It is key to not only improving the quality of care received by those who need it, but also for delivering much-needed resource and cost efficiencies for local councils - benefits which can also be felt by NHS trusts when considering the associated wider healthcare costs from a long neglected social care system.
The good news is, that change is coming. Every week, new, innovative solutions are chomping at the bit to start making a difference. We are seeing a new breed of technology innovators come to the fore, with pilot schemes rolling out that reflect real ingenuity and creative thinking in tackling the issues facing the sector.
For example, remote behavioural monitoring technology combines data obtained through sensors placed around the home with AI and ML to deliver real-time data-based insights to care providers to better inform the decisions they make. This could be as simple as a carer or occupational therapist becoming aware that an individual might be less mobile than previously thought, evidenced by data from motion sensors placed around the home.
This insight empowers them to recommend a clinical course of action based on the data in front of them - whether that might be increasing the number of care visits, or recommending physical therapy to help. Looking ahead to the future for that individual, early action might prevent an incident such as a slip, trip or fall, which could have resulted in a hospital admission, and ultimately, the loss of their independence. The benefits to the wider system here are obvious, with a more efficient, evidence-based allocation of resources and a side-stepping of potentially costly emergency care for some individuals.
Equally as important, for those individuals, the benefits of leveraging technology in ways that enable them to remain safe and independent within their own homes are clear. It’s less disruptive, more evidence-based and tailored to their needs, ensuring they receive the best possible care. It also provides vital peace of mind for loved ones. Currently, personal alarm technology is the most widely used solution to enable elderly people to alert loved ones or carers to incidents, and these are often the most recognised form of assisted living technology. But this form of reactive technology is limiting - it can only deliver value after an incident has already taken place. The future of care must involve a shift from reactive to proactive solutions, and technology is at the heart of that.
Helping people live better for longer
In sectors such as retail and hospitality, the deployment of technology that delivers real-time data insights has become de facto, delivering a range of benefits from cost-savings to more personalised experiences for the consumer. In this same vein, the wider adoption of data-driven technologies can play a vital role in local government and the NHS support in plugging the financial hole that will remain long after the levy investment has filtered down, by providing time and cost savings for resources that are systemically overstretched.
Whilst big technology trends may take a long while to surface in social care, there is an emerging acceptance that technology can facilitate vital operational change. And with an ageing population, a growth in those living with self-limiting conditions and the as-yet untold far-reaching impacts of conditions we are only just beginning to understand, such as long-covid, more support is going to be required for the sector in the near future, so adoption of new innovative solutions must be a priority. What we need to see from the Government now is acknowledgement of this fact, and more support, both financially and through policy reform, for a care sector facing its greatest challenge.