Insight

Technology can help local government respond to COVID-19

By David Rees

Apr 09, 2020

As the UK responds to COVID-19, local government’s role will be crucial. Yet this is a sector that already faces significant challenges across its diverse remit, particularly in the UK where its funding has fallen dramatically since austerity measures began in 2010.

One aspect of local government that’s critical and particularly at risk during the pandemic is social care, for which authorities have recently received an additional £1.6bn. NHSX has already recognised this challenge too and, among other things, are offering funding to companies that can find digital support solutions to help those self-isolating.

Although technology isn’t a complete solution to this pressing challenge, it can free up scarce human resource to focus on personal care and keep vulnerable adults connected.

Technology can provide vital support to vulnerable individuals

There are already familiar technologies, such as alarms for medication and hydration reminders, reducing the strain on services. But more possibilities are opening all the time. For example, we’ve already supported Hampshire County Council by developing Amazon Echo skills for vulnerable adults. To date, 62 per cent have said they feel less isolated while 68 per cent say they’re more independent. We’re also trialling ‘cobots’, or collaborative robots, that enhance carers’ abilities to lift service users safely and consistently. These machines would let a single carer lift and move a person, a task that usually takes two.

Technology can also help local authorities support unpaid carers as they struggle in the face of COVID-19. Essex County Council, for example, is currently assessing how care technology, such as smart watches and mental health apps, can maintain carers’ wellbeing. The council is also looking at how devices, like fall detectors, location trackers, secure key safes and hydration systems, can provide assurances about the wellbeing of carers’ loved ones.

IT and procurement departments are more important than ever

In many cases, providers and local authorities aren’t set up for remote working as it’s not always appropriate in personal care. So, they’re now putting a lot of resource into IT planning. For example, Appello, one of the UK’s leading monitoring providers, has just invested in a considerable number of laptops for home working and is creating a virtual monitoring centre.

But the reliance on technology manufactured in China’s central Hubei province, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, risks continuity of service. This means procurement departments need to respond to supply chain pressures with robust stock management and review alternative solutions where restrictions on supply look likely.

And, where monitoring technology needs a technician to install it, service users, their families and carers will be reluctant to let them into their homes. So, there needs to be effective contingency planning around equipment supply, such as using Royal Mail, and remote installation support.

Technology is a reliable way to monitor the wellbeing of service users 24/7, and it can help focus physical resources where they’re needed most. But implementing it will be a challenge. In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring exactly how to overcome those challenges in a series of blogs.

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About the authors

David Rees PA government and public sector expert David has invaluable experience of significant challenges for local government

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