Technology can ease the burden of social care cutbacks, report says

Local authorities need to reform how they deliver social care and effectively implement and utilise digital tools if they are to address their social care challenges and reduce the burden of budget cuts, according to a new report.

The report, published by the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust, paints a bleak picture about the current state of Britain’s social care system and warns more people are having to pay for their own care as a result of cuts to local authority services.

The growing funding gap, which the report’s authors say will reach £2.8bn by 2019/2020, along with staff shortages and rising demand for services, are in many cases leaving elderly people without any support at all.

According to the report, residential and home care providers are facing additional budget pressures from cuts to fees and the introduction of the National Living Wage, which could lead to more closing or going out of business.

“The failure of successive governments to reform social care has resulted in a failing system that leaves older people, their families and carers to pick up the pieces,” said the King’s Fund’s assistant director of policy, Richard Humphries.

Report authors added that, “renewed emphasis must be placed on promoting independence through prevention, re-ablement and the use of technology”.


Understand and engage

Agilisys, the public sector digital transformation specialist, is currently working with a number of local authorities around the country to deliver innovative digital solutions that meet the needs of citizens and help reduce costs – and it says digital tools can make a real difference.

“Our starting point is to work with councils to understand their customers and how best to engage with them,” says Pearl Roberts, client development director at Agilisys. “By taking a pragmatic approach to the technology, first testing and shaping solutions and then implementing them, the benefits are there.

“For example, we worked with Swindon Borough Council on its ‘My Care My Support’ portal, providing click-on advice to citizens in the Borough. The Information & Advice (I&A) modules for adults and children were deployed first. The childrens’ I&A was specifically tailored to meet the statutory requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Local Offer. We also worked with Swindon to update the online Needs & Goals Assessment tool to meet the requirements of the Care Act and increased eligibility criteria. It also helped in the design of the online Carers’ Assessment too to meet Care Act legislation.

“Equally importantly, our solution enables staff to work effectively while they are out and about or operating from different office sites. In Swindon, for example, Agilisys Care is being used within its hospital social work team to speed up safe and effective discharge with speedy assessment on wards.”


Innovations improve care support

Birmingham City Council has rolled-out a series of innovations – working with Agilisys Care to develop My Care in the city – aimed at improving care support and saving money, which is already proving successful.

At the core of the integrated adult social care solution is a one-stop website and a suite of self-help tools, giving people the power, 24/7, to digitally:

  • Access information and advice needed on any aspect of adult social care
  • assess their own care and support needs and plan for their future
  • find goods and services, and keep a bespoke shopping cart to transact with providers. The care e-marketplace supports local public, private and third sector organisations to advertise their services supporting local economic growth and regeneration as well as enabling citizens to access and fulfil their care needs online.


Enabling change

Roberts adds that providing a well-designed, easy-to-use digital channel is only the first step towards successful digital transformation. “The service then needs to be marketed, people need to trust it and to feel that their data is being handled securely and that using the service will bring benefits to them and not just to government,” she says.

To boost use of the website in Birmingham, a marketing campaign was developed around the life events of a group of real citizens and venues such as bingo halls, surgeries, libraries, and neighbourhood offices were used to actively engage local community groups and businesses, including opticians, dentists, pharmacies, charities, and care organisations. Training to help citizens use the website was also provided at GP surgeries and Health Centres.

The approach is working and users are embracing the digital tools – My Care in Birmingham marketplace now receives up to 13,000 visitors every month and 1,600 providers with 8,000 adverts receive 29,000 page views per month. Up to 500 people a month are now using the online Assessment and Planning modules.

“The effective implementation and utilisation of technology and digital tools and approaches gives councils the ability to deal with the challenges they’re facing more effectively,” concludes Roberts. “By providing those citizens capable of self-serving with the means to do so, councils can focus precious resources upon those in society most in need.”

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