Rethink needed over adult social care tech policy  

Investment in technology in adult social care is ‘piecemeal’ says study

26th October 2020 about a 2 minute read

The digital switchover is a great opportunity to shift from traditional telecare to flexible, networked, multi-functional Internet of Things devices. But it will only succeed if policymakers take urgent action.

So say researchers based at the University of Sheffield who are also calling for expert guidance for local authorities on emerging technologies. 

Their report on the potential of technology says adult social care services may need a dedicated technology-focused role. And councils reliant on third-party providers “could be exposed to risks.”

The authors note that although UK investment in care technologies research and development since 2000 has been significant, most initiatives have been “piecemeal and bottom up.”

Limited information

Initiatives have been driven mainly by local authorities with limited information to support commissioning decisions. 

The research highlights two key issues around the shift to digital:

  • Uncertainty among care and housing providers on how to develop a digital strategy
  • Confusion about the organisational responsibility – IT, Operations, R&D – involved in delivering it. 

Innovation for innovations’s sake

The report warns that this has led to some “interdepartmental stalemates.” “Senior staff are sometimes querying the need for investment in new technologies or concerned about ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’ where technology is the focus rather than outcomes. 

“Too often commissioners, older adults and carers lack adequate information  or rely on marketing materials or social media to guide decisions about which technologies will suit their service requirements”.

"In all honesty, it feels a bit overwhelming - the whole digital landscape" Local authority assertive technology lead in a shire local authority

The research is part of the ‘Sustainable Care: connecting people and systems programme’. The project is exploring how care of adults living at home with chronic health problems or disabilities can be made sustainable.

The work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is delivered by eight universities and Carers UK led by the University of Sheffield. 

Next steps include exploring how the role of technology in care is presented in national policy documents. Another strand of work will be studying the use of tech in care systems in other countries.

Commenting on the report Dr Peter Bloomfield, Future Care Capital Head of Policy and Research said:

“With multiple devices deployed in a care setting, either at home or in a care home, adequate connectivity and bandwidth is essential. Many people receiving care are in areas with limited connectivity and will need support to adopt the technologies in the report, which will likely be enabled by 5G networks.”

"There is a great opportunity for different technologies to be deployed in combination where different forms of telemedicine, apps or devices can be more effective when utilised together, to provide a superior system of care" Dr Peter Bloomfield, FCC Head of Policy and Research