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October 9, 2023updated 11 Oct 2023 1:56pm

Adult social care IT projects given £3m funding boost by UK government

A new investment fund has provided millions to selected councils and ICSs in the UK to transform care using digital technology.

By Sophia Waterfield

The UK government’s Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has awarded £3m to four adult social care IT projects through its Adult Social Care Technology Fund. The schemes, located in Shropshire, Reading and Greater Manchester, utilise internet-of-things (IoT) platforms, sensor networks and virtual care delivery schemes to reduce hospital admissions and boost patient independence. 

The National Care Group will also receive £349,234 from the fund to improve the quality of medication management and recording using an electronic medication administration record system. The government says this will improve recording accuracy for the 1,235 people supported by the system.

The government added that over 55% of regulated care providers are now using a digital care planning system, compared to 40% in December 2021. It estimates that digitising social care records has saved care workers up to 20 minutes per shift, allowing them to spend more time with patients and fewer hours updating their records.

Happy elderly twin senior people society lifestyle concept.
Four projects have been selected to receive funding for digitally transforming social care for adult patients. (Photo by BlurryMe/Shutterstock).

Councils taking digital transformation in adult social care seriously

The Adult Social Care Technology Fund, launched in April, brings together partners from different sectors to help scale digital health technologies in adult social care. According to NHS England, partners include social care providers, local authorities and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), as well as evaluation and technology companies.

The Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said that she was “delighted” to announce the funding for the four projects, adding that the use of technology will “improve quality of care and help people live independently for longer.

“More care at home and more personalised care is what people want and helps reduce pressure on the NHS,” she continued. “We are also investing in digital care records to join up care and reduce the burden of admin on staff.”

Shropshire Council will use the £1.192m it has been awarded over the next two years to expand its virtual care offer throughout the county. 

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Charlotte Hall, programme manager at Shropshire Council, said that the funding from the Adult Social Care Technology Fund will enable the council to expand its virtual care offer in the county: “This is particularly beneficial to individuals that live in rural, hard-to-reach areas,” said the council’s programme manager, Charlotte Hall. 

For its part, Reading Borough Council is partnering with Henley Business School to trial sensors to monitor any significant changes to a person’s daily habits as a way to evaluate any areas of concern. It has been awarded over £1m for the project, which will also evaluate the benefits and potential of the technology.

Greater Manchester Integrated Care Board was also awarded nearly £380,000 to work on a project to determine the efficiency and affordability in using a “digital falls prevention programme” for older people in the community. Partners of the programme include NHS Greater Manchester and the University of Manchester, who will help patients build awareness and knowledge of activities that promote hydration strategies, balanced diets and greater safety in the home through so-called “health-literacy games.”

Experts want more action from the government for digitalising social care

The announcement from the government shows that there have been positive steps forward in digitally transforming the care offered to patients in the community.

In February, the TEC Action Alliance, a social care charity, heard evidence from a range of people involved in the care sector, including frontline workers and patients. It found that only 18% of the people it spoke to had used telecare or telehealth services. It also said it had seen no evidence of large-scale implementation of digital care solutions.

Speaking on today’s announcement, Alyson Scurfield, chief executive of the TEC Services Association (TSA), told Tech Monitor that she was pleased the new funding from the Adult Social Care Technology Fund was encouraging organisations to collaborate more closely when it came to devising new digital technology solutions.

“Technology-enabled care has a huge role to play in helping people to remain happy and healthy at home, preventing avoidable admissions and readmissions to hospital and putting quality and safety firmly at the heart of services – particularly at a time of unprecedented demand across health and social care,” she said. “I can’t wait to hear about the progress of all four awarded projects and we hope to see other social care providers taking the learnings into their own development plans so they can use technology-enabled care to help people live really good lives.”

Another expert, Clive Gilbert, senior policy and research manager for assistive technology and head of accessible transport, Policy Connect, said that the investment in the four projects was a “welcome step.” Even so, said Gilbert, more support would be welcomed. “By exploring care-focused technology solutions these projects can help improve independence and reduce avoidable hospital admissions. 

“However, this investment should not be a one-off and must lead to more ambitious funding of assistive technology,” he continued. “Further funds should also be accompanied by more extensive planning of the government’s approach to expanding technology use in adult social care.”

Gilbert added that the fund was an opportunity for people to start moving beyond traditional thinking when it came to assessing the role of possibilities of digital technology in care. In time, he argued, it could help move the government from maintaining “a historically narrow focus on keeping people safe and well, to a more aspirational approach that taps into the social benefits of modern technology from videoconferencing with family and friends to online shopping.”

Read more: Digital Health and Social Care plan lays out tech-driven future for the NHS

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