Digital making a difference

Two programmes supporting digital innovation in adult social care have produced a range of resources and tools for councils.

COVID-19 has created the perfect storm: a need for us to be physically distanced and at the same time more socially connected. 

It has created an opportunity to innovate and use digital technology in new ways – such as doing important day-to-day activities online like exercise classes or grocery shopping, video calls to stay connected to loved ones and even virtual care delivery.  

Councils have been at the forefront of this work. The LGA and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), via the government-funded Care and Health Improvement Programme (CHIP), have provided support through two programmes that ended on 31 March. 

Both provide valuable insight into digital technologies and, significantly, the conditions that enable success in adult social care.

The LGA continues to share the learning from these programmes (see below) to support local and national care and health digital transformation activity.

With strong leadership and by working with partners and people in communities, councils can continue adapting their digital social care offer, to let people live the lives they want to lead in the places they want to be.

Though we’re at the end of the formal support offers for 2020/21, it feels like we’re only at the start of an exciting journey ahead for the sector.

Social care digital innovation programme and accelerators

We know digital technology can help people live healthy, independent lives and enable health and social care services to be more effective, personalised and efficient. 

With collaboration and funding from NHS Digital as part of their five-year social care programme, the LGA delivered funding and support to 49 projects involving 69 council teams across England to develop and share new digital approaches and technologies in adult social care.

The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme (SCDIP) provided more than £1 million for local authorities to use technology to respond to adult social care challenges in their area. The Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerator programme (SCDIA) provided over £470,000 for co-funded and collaborative digital projects of common and shared interest. 

All projects aimed to meet the needs of people, care providers and professionals while working in partnership with technology suppliers. 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges, project teams adapted to the changing circumstances so that digital tools could continue to support people effectively.

For example, local authorities in Essex and Hampshire piloted everyday consumer technologies such as tablets and voice-activated speakers, which now help people stay connected and feel secure in their own homes during lockdown. 

Projects in the Isle of Wight and Hampshire also piloted new ‘cobots’ – computer-controlled robotic devices designed to assist care givers carrying out lifting and handling, which reduces the need for double-handed care and the risk of infection.

Some schemes introduced remote assessments, making the process easier and quicker for users. Derbyshire County Council carried out equipment and care assessments via phone and video, which received very positive feedback from participants. 

In Kirklees, people receiving long-term care and their families could access care assessments and book social care appointments online, enabling more personalised and timely services.

Other products involved apps, such as in North Somerset where an app was used to monitor the hydration levels of care home residents, improving personalised care by recording their individual drink preferences.

Virtual support was used by several councils: five co-funded and co-produced virtual content for people with learning disabilities with videos on life and employability skills via an app.

These are just some of the many innovations, and information on the SCDIP and SCDIA products developed is now available online so other councils can access them (see below).

For more on the SCDIP, see https://bit.ly/3gfXAvU. For the SCDIA, see https://bit.ly/32gCeX8. NHS Digital’s social care programme is at www.digital.nhs.uk/services/social-care-programme 

Care technology support programme (#lgacaretech) 

The use of care technology (telecare, assistive technology, technology-enabled care) in adult social care is increasing, but beyond the traditional button and a box is unchartered territory for many of us. 

What technology is best for people and how do we support digital inclusion? How do we resource care technology and evidence value for money? How do we ensure we are on the front foot of preparing for the digital switchover in 2025? 

These might be some of the questions you’ve asked yourself or others in your organisation – they are shared by many of us. 

In January 2021, the LGA, consultants Rethink Partners and a cohort of councils came together to tackle some of these questions head on. This led to the creation of a 12-week programme of intensive support that included: 

  • five practical and themed masterclasses pooling expertise and experience from within and outside of local government
  • an individual coaching and development offer and two care technology ‘community of practices’ to facilitate peer-to-peer learning 
  • flexible, bespoke support including to assist councils completing the LGA care technology diagnostic and planning tool (see www.local.gov.uk/care-technology-diagnostic-and-planning-resource).

We’ve uncovered six key lessons.  

First, curiosity is key. You don’t need to be a technology expert to champion or lead digital change. Be curious, willing to learn and visibly supportive of tech enthusiasts around you. 

Second, be more Monet. Keep people at the core of everything you do. Go out to people, families, carers and staff, and understand what is valued and important to them – like 19th century impressionist artist Monet did when he immersed himself in the subject of his paintings. 

Third, beware of ‘almost digital’. Changes to many existing care technologies are happening as early as 2023 as we move from analogue to digital connectivity. If you want a flexible and future-proofed local offer with the right data capabilities, you need to think about this now. 

“I was at such a loss as to how to move the care technology project forward and I am not any more. I have found the offer from the LGA to be practical, communicated in a clear way and has enabled me to link with colleagues in a way that I have not been able to do on other projects.” 

– Commissioning project manager

A little ‘hive mind’ thinking is our fourth recommendation. One of our biggest assets in local government is each other. This programme has helped unlock new ideas, skills, relationships and facilitated the honest exchange of knowledge and practice between councils. Be open and pool your learnings (good and bad!) so shared challenges aren’t approached in isolation. 

Better together is fifth. Invest time in developing strong partnerships and opportunities for collaboration. The benefits are huge and it makes sense for local people – joined-up services that people want, avoidance of expensive duplication of effort and the potential for risk and resource sharing. 

Finally, there’s no time like the present. Innovation and design (particularly with technology) is not linear and can often be messy. Getting started is hard, but it’s ok to embrace the unknowns and get stuck in. 

Twelve weeks on and we’ve delivered 90 hours of practical support to more than 550 colleagues in 89 councils covering every local government region. 

More importantly, we are seeing a step change in care technology thinking and delivery that has been enabled by sector-led improvement.

You can find all the tools and materials from the care technology support programme at https://bit.ly/3e65p4M. Councils can join the LGA Care Technology Network on Knowledge Hub (https://khub.net/) to connect with peers and access a repository of practical, local resources from care tech strategies to procurement documents. Contact socialcaredigital@local.gov.uk to join.

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