A drive to expand the use of digital technology in social care is expected to lead to £127m worth of benefits.
Analysis of NHS Digital’s Social Care Programme found that new ways of working will reduce hospital admissions and GP visits, as well as improve quality of life.
The programme aimed to harness the power of information and technology to help England’s social care sector care for people more and effectively and efficiently.
It started in 2016, had an investment of £23m, and has funded over 100 projects including the development of apps, the roll-out of new robotic technology to help carers and tools to reduce the risk of falls.
- An electronic red bag to replace the physical ‘red bag’, which accompanies someone when they go into hospital from their residential care or nursing home. The eRedBag contains a standardised set of information about health and care, such as medications, medical history, personal preferences and information about safeguarding.
- Remote monitoring technology which monitors care home residents, particularly through the night, to alert staff to unusual movements or people calling for help. Participating care homes saw a large reduction in falls and in one case, could give immediate help to a resident who had suffered a cardiac arrest during the night.
Impact of digital technology
Projects driven by the programme will result in benefits equivalent to £127m over their lifespan.
James Palmer, Programme Head of the Social Care Programme at NHS Digital, said: ‘We are delighted to see the impact that digital technology introduced through our programme has already had on people’s lives and the multitude of benefits it will bring in the years to come, both on individuals and on the wider health and social care sector.
‘Our approach throughout has been led by users of the services, and we have worked collaboratively with care providers and local authorities, which has given us high confidence they can deliver outcomes and benefits for those commissioning, providing and receiving care.’
Areas of work in the Social Care Programme included the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and Social Care Digital Accelerator Programme, which saw innovative ways of using digital technology developed by 69 local authorities.
Digital Social Care Pathfinders
Through another project, the Digital Social Care Pathfinders, new digital tools were adopted by participating providers to transform care. Other providers can now benefit from these innovations, such as a monitor which sends health data from care home residents to GP systems, then uses artificial intelligence to predict their care needs.
Under the initial phase of this programme, 26 ‘pathfinders’ were funded to run small pilots in their local areas. In this most recent phase, which ran from 2019 to 2021, 16 of these organisations received funding to develop their products, scale them up and make them available for use by other organisations.
Products were mainly focused on standardising information and developing digital ways of sharing that information, reducing delayed transfers of care and hospital admissions and preventing health conditions worsening using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Mandy Thorn, vice chair of the National Care Association, said: ‘The Digital Social Care Pathfinders programme has left a lasting legacy, in particular it has helped create stronger links between the adult social care provider sector, local authorities and the NHS, whilst empowering individuals to have their voices heard. The Care Provider Alliance is proud to have been an integral part of this programme and to have been involved in such transformational work.’
Ann Mackay, Director of Policy at Care England, added: ‘It is hard to single out individual projects from among the 16 – the proof of concepts, such as the use of integrated acoustic monitoring technology will have a long-lasting impact. In addition, the focus on predictive technology has been particularly impressive and the project with HFT (My Health Guide) has actually given people with learning disabilities a voice.’
The Digital Social Care Pathfinders project ran until March 2021 and the products developed are now available to be used by other organisations.
Benefits of technology
NHSX is leading the digital transformation of social care and will build on the work of NHS Digital.
Alice Ainsworth, Deputy Director for Social Care Tech Policy at NHSX, said: ‘This programme has demonstrated the huge potential benefits of technology in improving the quality of care people receive in the adult social care sector.
‘We want to see many more people benefit from digital transformation and are focused on ensuring digital social care records are adopted across the sector by March 2024.
‘Every provider needs to have the foundations in place to unlock the benefits of digitisation for the people in their care, so they can confidently adopt the most effective care technologies, improve the quality and safety of the care they deliver, and enable much closer integration with NHS partners.’