The importance and potential of digital technologies have been brought to the fore during the last two years, with tools helping to transform the delivery of care by giving care staff vital data at their fingertips. These digital tools have also played a critical role in helping care home residents and their families to stay connected during the difficult months of lockdown.
As a provider of medical technology to the care sector, the team at PainChek® has witnessed first-hand how technology can help improve and transform lives within adult social care. Indeed, COVID-19 has accelerated the uptake of many technologies across the sector.
Whilst the Government’s recruitment campaign for the social care sector highlights the need to improve pay, the sector as a whole is historically underfunded; better working conditions, staff support and digital tech are urgently needed to transform the sector.
Although the plan for adult social care reform announced in December last year allocated funding for certain aspects of social care, including £150m for new technology, no additional funding was promised following the disappointing Autumn Budget. Of the £5.4bn of funding promised for adult social care over the next three years, just £1.7bn will be made available to support ‘wider system reform’ – clearly, this is insufficient to tackle the sector’s ongoing workforce crisis and the existing pressures and challenges faced by carers on a day-to-day basis.
Digital technology must be the foundation for futureproofing the country’s social care system. The Government must modernise its strategy for care provision, firstly by improving the financial and strategic support available to the sector if it is to survive and cope with future demands on resource and facilities, and secondly, by having the means to utilise the power of technology and innovation to improve care for residents. We know that integrated, digital technology that generates meaningful data has the power to make a transformational difference to the day-to-day experience of carers and residents alike.
One aspect of care which has been historically overlooked and can benefit greatly from use of technology is pain assessment, management and recording – particularly amongst those unable to verbalise their pain. Currently, around 70% of people living in care homes have a form of cognitive impairment that sometimes leaves them unable to reliably communicate their pain, which in turn goes unrecognised and therefore untreated.
With the global population of people living with dementia set to triple by 2050, the social care workforce needs support and information about the signs and impact of pain in care home residents unable to communicate, and how to manage it to improve their quality of life.
Artificial intelligence is sometimes seen as taking away the human touch. However, in my opinion, artificial intelligence can retain the active involvement of carers in the process and can help to remove the administrative burden associated with the documentation. Care providers can use data to plan person-centred, long-term care, therefore giving a voice to those unable to verbalise their pain.
In 2021, a cohort of organisations from across the social care sector, including the National Care Forum and Care England, called on the Government for the creation of an innovation grant or fund to be used by social care providers to invest in and roll out innovation and technology that supports the care of people living with dementia. Being able to access and harness the power of tried and tested technologies would allow care providers to deliver more efficient and effective care, streamline processes and ultimately cut costs and save time – empowering staff and allowing them to focus on delivering the highest standard of care. Indeed, technology can play a critical role in facilitating better health outcomes for care home residents, with point-of-care recording and powerful reporting that reduce the administrative burden on staff. Medical technology also provides richness in data to support better decision making within care.
The UK Government must now grasp what is the perfect opportunity to relook at how the country’s social care system works, to ensure the social care workforce can utilise all the tools at its disposal to guarantee high-quality, person-centred care. Technology is an enabler to assist with this, allowing us to work smarter, not harder.