Tuesday 26 November 2019 6:13 am

The UK’s social care system is in crisis — but technology can help ease the burden

Jonathan Papworth is co-founder and director of Person Centred Software.

Care of elderly people affects us all, whether a loved one requires these vital services, or we simply wish for everyone in society to be treated with dignity in old age. 

And so we should all care about the current crisis. Social care is one of the burning issues of our time.  

Social care has come up in the various manifestos, with parties pledging to tackle the crisis. Given that the sector has played political second fiddle to healthcare for decades, this is excellent to see. But so far, we’ve seen vague spending promises rather than a proper look at innovative ways to improve the system.

This is a problem, because while the over-65s population is growing faster than any other age group, there are 120,000 unfilled staff vacancies in social care. Acute staff shortages are a major reason the sector is struggling.

Part of the problem is of course funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that an extra £4bn a year is needed over the next parliament for councils simply to maintain current levels of social care — let alone cope with rising demand.

But a lack of skills is just as important. Looking after our vulnerable elderly — one of the most important jobs in our society — is a low-paid, low-status job with huge staff turnover. To tackle the problem, we need to think about how can we can attract people who want to provide excellent care.

This is where technology can help — by making the job more appealing by cutting out admin, and by streamlining the system.

Tech has been widely overlooked as an answer to this challenge, but think about it. While recording outputs is vital, having the time to provide personalised care is far more important than dealing with a mountain of paperwork. Mobile technology that frees up admin time enables carers to do the job they were hired for, making their work much more satisfying. 

We’re already seeing this in some care homes, where smartphone technology is improving performance with instant, precise documentation. Technology saves each carer up to an hour a day in paperwork. And it’s not just about saving time but improving care — research has shown that instant digital recording of fluid consumption, for example, reduces falls and urine infections in elderly people by a third.

Easy-to-use tech can make a career in care more appealing. In a recent case, it increased retention by 40 per cent for care staff and 33 per cent for nursing staff. And if it’s icon-driven, it can help people who struggle with literacy or have English as a second language, enabling a wider range of people to consider a career in care, opening the doors to many more potential workers.

Crucially, digitising the sector can also increase transparency for concerned family members, who can digitally, instantly and remotely track the care of relatives — from confirmation that their medication has been taken, to finding out that they’ve done a crossword or been for a walk. This in turn keeps providers focused on improvement.

The adult care sector employs an estimated 1.49m workers — more than the entire NHS. With the pressures bearing down on the sector exacerbating at breakneck pace, it is vital that we solve the crisis for the good of our society, the health of our nation, and the benefit of our future selves. And mobile technology is a crucial part of the answer.

Main image credit: Getty