In the media

Care technology has the potential to deliver better outcomes for service users, allow councils to do more with their limited budgets

By Robert Turnbull

Open Access Government

23 May 2023

This article was first published in Open Access Government

The Department of Health and Social Care’s decision to hold back £0.6bn of social care funding has been widely criticised and leaves many parts of social care in crisis. Councils will face even more difficult decisions, and significant demand pressures will continue to increase unabated. Social care budgets that have already faced 10 years of reductions are becoming unsustainable. Whilst many councils may consider that easy spending cuts have already been made, that may not be the case.

Care technology may hold some answers and opportunities for councils

Care technology is the term given to an increasingly wide variety of solutions that help the most vulnerable people to live safely and independently in their own homes. Care technology solutions include the use of passive and non-obtrusive sensors either worn by the person or in their home. It can also include consumer devices such as smart speakers, apps and tablets and smartphones. Each person’s care technology solution should be specially configured to support them to live their good life in their own home and give them a way to summon urgent help if they need it.

The potential to deliver serious financial benefits

Care technology, delivered correctly, has the potential to deliver better outcomes for service users, be a valuable tool in the social care practitioners’ toolbox and allow councils to do more with their limited budgets. Through care technology Partnerships, such as Argenti’s, currently being used by Hampshire and Barnet, there is clear evidence that care technology delivered as part of a transformed approach to adult social care delivers financial benefits. Across 40,000 people, a total net financial benefit of over £30m has been realised by councils.

The good news for those that get their approach right is that these financial benefits are extremely realisable. Investing in a progressive approach to care technology is not an ‘invest today in the hope for jam tomorrow’ option. Councils will realise a return on investment within the first 12 months. As one council said, “Care Technology costs them less than nothing!”.

Personal anecdotes illustrate the importance of creativity in care

The following stories illustrate how creative care technology solutions are supporting people better whilst reducing the cost of care for councils.

Ursula

Ursula is a 40-year-old lady who lives alone with her assistance dog. She has a heart condition that resulted in reduced mobility and has very severe allergies, which require an EpiPen. Ursula’s assistance dog is trained to get support should she collapse or go into shock. As part of the care technology solution, Ursula’s dog has been trained to use a large button to summon help.

The care technology works through a large colourful button that the dog presses with its paw that triggers the main alarm unit in the lounge to contact an emergency contact centre which replies within 60 seconds. The contact centre, which has details about Ursula’s medical conditions, will talk to her and arrange the help she may need, including contacting emergency services.

The novel use of care technology has allowed Ursula to continue to live in her own home without the need for further care and support. This simple yet creative use of care technology has removed the need for a live-in carer and realised the council a financial benefit of £68k per year.

Louis

Louis is an 18-year-old man who lives in supported living. He lives with epilepsy and has frequent minor seizures.

As part of a broader care technology solution, a heart monitor was provided that automatically calls on support when his heart rate breaches a threshold.

The care technology triggers an alert to a support worker in the supported living home through a pager when his heart rate goes over or under a predetermined level.

The support staff all have pagers, so if they receive an alert they can go immediately to Louis’s flat to offer support.

This has given Louis his independence back, as well as his dignity, as he no longer needs to have someone in his flat 24/7. This reduction in carer hours has created a financial benefit of £15k per year.

Edna

Edna is becoming frailer after losing her husband. She now lives with her daughter, who works full time but returns to make lunch and check on her but worries for her mum during the day.

A simple personal trigger pendant means that Edna can summon help from her neighbours if needed.

The personal trigger is a small button that she wears around her neck, and when the pendant is pressed it triggers an alarm to the contact centre, who respond in less than 60 seconds. This provides reassurance to her daughter. The alternative for the council would have required a basic home care package at a cost of £3900 a year.

PA’s work with a mix of 30+ councils right across the country has shown the untapped potential of care technology that could reduce costs and improve lives.

‘Only a handful of councils, housing, and care organisations are delivering digital care in people’s homes at scale’

As the TEC Action Alliance has highlighted in its paper, Technology-Enabled Lives: Delivering Outcomes for People and Providers, “…Only a handful of councils, housing, and care organisations are delivering digital care in people’s homes at scale”.

Analysis conducted by PA estimates the net financial benefit of a transformed approach to care technology implemented at scale across the UK could deliver between £0.6bn and £0.4bn over five years after deducting all costs associated with delivering the services, a return on investment of 60%.

While the pressures on budgets will remain, there is a real opportunity to reduce costs and improve services if councils are willing to grasp the nettle.

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