A drive to increase the use of digital technology in social care in England is expected to lead to £127m worth of benefits, NHS Digital has said.
An analysis of NHS Digital’s Social Care Programme found that new ways of working can reduce hospital admissions and GP visits, as well as improving quality of life.
Since its launch in 2016 with an investment of £23m, the programme has funded over 100 projects with the aim of helping the social care sector function more effectively and efficiently by utilising technology. Such innovations funded by the programme include apps, robotic technology, and fall-prevention solutions.
Projects driven by the programme are expected to result in benefits equivalent to £127m over their lifespan.
James Palmer, Programme Head of the Social Care Programme at NHS Digital, said: “We are delighted to see the impact that digital technology introduced through our programme has already had on people’s lives and the multitude of benefits it will bring in the years to come, both on individuals and on the wider health and social care sector.
“Our approach throughout has been led by users of the services and we have worked collaboratively with care providers and local authorities, which has given us high confidence they can deliver outcomes and benefits for those commissioning, providing, and receiving care.”
What does the Social Care Programme include?
Areas of work in the Social Care Programme included the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and Social Care Digital Accelerator Programme, which saw innovative ways of using digital technology developed by 69 local authorities.
Another project, the Digital Social Care Pathfinders, saw participating providers adopt new digital tools to transform care. Under the initial phase of this programme, 26 Pathfinders were funded to run small pilots in their local areas. In the most recent phase, which ran from 2019 to 2021, 16 of these organisations received funding to develop their products, scale them up and make them available for use by other organisations.
Mandy Thorn, Vice Chair of the National Care Association, said: “The Digital Social Care Pathfinders programme has left a lasting legacy. In particular, it has helped create stronger links between the adult social care provider sector, local authorities and the NHS, whilst empowering individuals to have their voices heard. The Care Provider Alliance is proud to have been an integral part of this programme and to have been involved in such transformational work.”
Products were mainly focused on standardising information and developing digital ways of sharing that information, reducing delayed transfers of care and hospital admissions, and preventing health conditions worsening using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Ann Mackay, Director of Policy at Care England, added: “It is hard to single out individual projects from amongst the 16 – the proof of concepts, such as the use of integrated acoustic monitoring technology will have a long-lasting impact. In addition, the focus on predictive technology has been particularly impressive and the project with HFT (My Health Guide) has actually given people with learning disabilities a voice.”
NHSX will build on the work of NHS Digital to lead the digital transformation of social care and will build on the work of NHS Digital.
Alice Ainsworth, Deputy Director for Social Care Tech Policy at NHSX, said: “This programme has demonstrated the huge potential benefits of technology in improving the quality of care people receive in the adult social care sector.
“We want to see many more people benefit from digital transformation and are focused on ensuring digital social care records are adopted across the sector by March 2024.
“Every provider needs to have the foundations in place to unlock the benefits of digitisation for the people in their care, so they can confidently adopt the most effective care technologies, improve the quality and safety of the care they deliver, and enable much closer integration with NHS partners.”