In October 2020, the Local Government Association (LGA) stated that an additional £10.1 billion was needed annually to help local authorities in England plug funding gaps and improve services.
This call from the LGA helps to illustrate the dire financial situation that many councils across the country find themselves in; a situation that has been greatly exacerbated over the course of the past 12 months by the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
Not only has the pandemic created billions of pounds of new costs for local authorities and hit many sources of income upon which they rely, but it has also placed a huge strain on the services they provide. Adult social care, for example, has, over the past decade, seen costs rise by £8.5 billion, while total funding has grown only by £2.4 billion, leaving councils with a £6.1 billion gap to fill.
Technology holds the key to councils’ cash crisis
Increasingly, councils are now looking to utilise technology enabled solutions to minimise costs and ensure their resources are efficiently allocated. For example, as part of the InnOvaTe project, Sutton council has deployed in-home sensors to improve the safety of vulnerable residents in social housing.
At present, they are carrying out a 12-month pilot that has seen the sensors initially placed in 100 homes, managed by the Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP). The sensors used here, which are driven by Internet of Things [IoT] technology, are designed to discreetly monitor day to day activity in a home. Upon detecting a decrease in typical behaviour, they send an automated alert to carers, enabling them to make a proactive, urgent visit or phone call instead of relying on a scheduled appointment or residents making contact themselves.
Other councils – including county councils and unitary authorities – in Suffolk, Bournemouth and Merton – are also rolling out the same solution following extensive investigation. In addition to presenting a solution to the social care funding problems that councils are facing, preliminary results also suggest that the sensors are highly effective at minimising risk of serious injury and can even save lives.
How IoT – and IoMT – is changing the face of medicine and healthcare today
In one case in the Sutton Council pilot, within a week of the solution being installed in the home of an elderly woman, carers – who were not due to complete a check-in for another six days – received an alert to a drop in activity, prompting an emergency visit to the property. Upon arrival, the resident was found lying on the floor and unable to move, having fallen and broken her hip, and as she did not have her pendant alarm within reach, she was unable to call for her.
The resident was taken to hospital for treatment and made a recovery, though medical staff stated that, if she had not been found so promptly, she would have passed away within hours. They also indicated that the early alert system had played a crucial role in saving her life.
IoT and other advanced digital technologies can enable local authorities to deliver better services, and more efficiently manage local infrastructure than ever before. That does not mean throwing technology at a problem will solve it. Take pendant alarms – devices worn on a lanyard around the neck or on the wrist that allow the wearer to call for emergency help at the press of a button – as an example. These have been employed by a number of boroughs, but statistics from Alertacall show that up to 80% of owners do not always wear them, with a further 24% saying that they never wear them at all.
There continues to be a reliance on such devices without diversification into complementary solutions that would strengthen the support that can be provided. Many simply do not have the time or resources to alternative and complementary solutions that would strengthen the service they provide. Though this is changing, many councils across the UK have inefficient systems for procurement, are slow to engage with technology vendors, or worse yet, are resistant to them, because they do not understand the technology on offer and how to leverage it.
This is highlighted by a recent report led by The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services [ADASS] and the TEC Services Association [TSA], which concluded that the poor uptake among councils was largely attributable to major gaps in the digital skills of care professionals. Moreover, the report called on directors of adult social care to make their services more proactive and preventative by collaborating with service provides and manufacturers so that data from devices can be used by the social care workforce and carers to identify people with needs, and put solutions in place before they reach a crisis.
Delivering for citizens through digitisation of government services
If councils want to fully realise the benefits of technology for those in social care, they must drive a cultural change within their organisations that encourages a more entrepreneurial approach to procurement. That means encouraging technology vendors to engage with them and piloting products and services to prove their worth.
It also means a drive to understanding technology within their organisation and how to leverage it. The answer to the social care crisis is in our hands – all we need to do now is recognise and unlock technology’s true potential.