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Robot Helpers Among Showcase of Digital Innovations Improving Adult Social Care

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Robots that help carers to lift people without extra assistance are among dozens of innovations being highlighted as examples of best practice in adult social care.

The innovative ways of using digital technology were developed by 69 local authorities as part of the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and the Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerators projects, which were run by NHS Digital in collaboration with the Local Government Association.

The computer-controlled robots – known as ‘cobots’ – were trialled in the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. The robotic devices are worn around the waist and lower back to support carers in lifting, holding, and moving people without assistance.

The cobots – shown in this video – lessen the risk of injury and fatigue among carers, as well as reducing the need for two carers to work together. This cuts the risk of infection caused by involving an extra person, which has been especially important during the pandemic.

The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and the Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerators – both part of NHS Digital’s five-year Social Care Programme – supported local authorities across England to develop and share new digital approaches and technologies in adult social care.

Various apps, such as one which monitors the hydration levels of care home residents, another which helps prevent falls, and another to coordinate health, care, transport, and voluntary staff when a patient leaves the hospital, were also among 49 innovative projects trialled as part of the initiative.

More social care organisations are now being encouraged to adopt the technologies, which reduced hospital admissions, increased people’s independence, and saved social care staff time and resources.

James Palmer, programme head of the Social Care Programme at NHS Digital, said: ‘Digital technology can make a huge difference to people’s lives and the projects funded through these programmes have improved social care as well as empowered people by giving them more control over their own well-being.

Frontline staff have worked incredibly hard to make these programmes successful and we now want to ensure these fantastic innovations can be adopted by more social care providers, local authorities, and charities so that as many people as possible can experience the benefits they bring.’

Digital technology can help people live healthy, independent lives and enable health and social care services to be more effective, personalised, and efficient.

The first phase of the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme was launched in 2018, followed by the most recent phase, which was launched in 2019. This phase provided over £1 million funding for local authorities to use technology to respond to adult social care challenges in their area.

The Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerators projects were launched from 2020 and provided over £500,000 to encourage co-funding and collaboration between councils on new digital projects.

The projects developed through both programmes aimed to meet the needs of people, care providers, and professionals while working in partnership with technology suppliers.

Though the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought challenges, teams adapted to the changing circumstances so that digital tools could continue to support people effectively.

Local authorities in Essex and Hampshire tested using everyday consumer technologies like tablets and voice-activated speakers, which helped people stay connected and feel secure in their own homes during the lockdown.

Some schemes introduced remote assessments, making the process easier and quicker. Derbyshire County Council carried out equipment and care assessments via phone and video, which received very positive feedback from participants.

In Kirklees, people receiving long term care and their families could access care assessments and book social care appointments online, enabling more personalised and timely services.

Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark focus the opportunities presented by digital technology, to improve and tailor social care services to meet an individual’s preferences.

‘There was already a growing trend towards using digital devices, apps, and online support to make everyone’s care experience more personal and specific to their needs, which has been accelerated by the events of the past year.

‘Working with partners, including those who use and work in care services, these programmes have allowed councils to continue adapting their social care offer, to let people live the lives they want to live and in the places they want to be.’

The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and the Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerators concluded at the end of March 2021 and information on the products developed is now being made available online so that other local authorities can use them.

More information and case studies are available on their website.

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