In the media

Social care leaders must plug the social care gap and seize the opportunity robotics presents

By Lesley Grant

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services

17 June 2021

This article was first published in ADASS.

The biggest barrier to pursuing robotics solutions to social care problems is a lack of understanding of the market. We recently approached social care leaders across 10 local authorities who subscribe to PA’s Robotics in Care Community of Interest group. We wanted to understand what challenges were keeping them awake at night, and if and how they saw robotics and AI as part of the solution. Their feedback provides an invaluable insight that will both set the direction for our Community of Interest and give every social care authority food for thought.

What is surprising is that the challenges are not ‘big T technical’ ones, but human and familiar ones. This reinforces our belief that robotics and AI add most value when they are used not for their own sake, but as part of a strategy to achieve better outcomes for people.

‘Care workforce capacity’, ‘preventing the need for care’ and ‘delivering mental health services’ were the top three most urgent challenges facing the care sector. Care workforce capacity and preventing the need for care were also seen as the top areas of opportunity for robotics, in addition to addressing social isolation.

While the prevention agenda was the top strategic priority, improving the mental health of their population and capitalising on the community spirit built during Covid were the key medium-term priorities for councils.

When asked what opportunities the Covid pandemic will present for robotics, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that there was a growing sense that people now see the potential of the technology and there is a willingness to try it. There was also a desire for the sector to avoid returning to ‘pre-Covid’ practice and instead to think creatively about how services can be delivered differently. Respondents said they wanted to see developments ranging from robotic pets for people with dementia, to robots that helped with washing, dressing and feeding and to use more AI in their systems and call centres to check wellbeing and support the prevention agenda.

Four out of five respondents said they don’t think their organisations are negative about the idea of robotics. In fact, when we asked what was stopping them pursuing robotics solutions, three out of five said it was simply a lack of understanding of the robotics market and what is available.

That underlines that the opportunity for robotics is here, the barrier is not knowing enough about it. To help address that respondents want to see more continuous engagement with potential funders and developers of robotics, but they also want to work more with other local authorities.

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