NHS England - Transformation Directorate

Using technology to put people at the heart of care

Today the Department of Health and Social Care has published its White Paper People at the Heart of Care which outlines the 10-year vision for reform of the sector. Alice Ainsworth, deputy director for adult social care technology policy, reflects on how digitisation can support this agenda.

Technology is an enabler for change, and when embedded seamlessly into care and support services, it can help people to live happy, fulfilled lives in their homes and communities.

We know that at least 1.7 million people in England are already using assistive technologies such as personal alarm systems to support their care and give them more choice, control, and independence. Many people also use smart devices to help them with routine tasks such as medication reminders, while sensor technologies are increasingly used to monitor movement and identify falls at home.

Digital technology is also making the provision of social care more efficient for the workforce. E-rostering solutions can reduce administration demands for care managers, and the adoption of secure email through the rollout of NHSmail to care providers has helped health and care professionals communicate more effectively.

Similarly digital social care records can improve transfers of care and handovers between shifts, by ensuring staff have up-to-date information about people’s health and care needs. These systems can enhance the quality of care and help free up time for meaningful human interactions, yet currently only 30-40% of care providers are fully digitised.

Today’s White Paper announces investment of at least £150 million over the next 3 years to rapidly drive digitisation across the sector. We recognise that adoption of technology has been challenging in social care to date, with providers lacking the resources to invest. We want today's proposals to help change that.

Working with our partners and learning from what’s been achieved locally and nationally, over the next 3 years we will:

  • Launch a new scheme to test care technologies and scale those where there is proven benefit to people, building the case for change for local organisations. An early priority is on falls prevention but we will also explore technologies to help prevent urinary tract infections, medications errors and bedsores, as well as tools that help connect people and support independence and wellbeing.
  • Ensure that at least 80% of care providers put a digitised care record in place that can connect to a shared care record, a commitment that was set out in the draft Data Saves Lives strategy for health and social care. Support for implementation will be provided through integrated care systems.
  • Support care homes that lack basic infrastructure to improve their broadband connections by delivering fibre upgrades. We will also work with government and industry to ensure homecare providers have the infrastructure they need to work digitally.
  • Deliver a comprehensive digital learning offer to support a step-change in digital skills and confidence, including targeted digital leadership support for decision-makers who can drive cultural change at a senior level.

These plans are also informed by new evidence gathered through our technology, innovation and digital skills reviews. These reviews, also published today, highlight immense opportunities to drive up use of technology across the sector; and a desire from staff for targeted learning and development of digital skills.

We have already started to make progress on this work. Back in October, we announced £8 million of funding as part of the Adult Social Care Winter Plan, and we will soon be sharing details of the successful bids.

Over the coming months we will continue to work with partners across the sector as well as people with experience of health and care services to produce a social care technology blueprint that will help people understand ‘what good looks like’ for technology in social care.

The recent announcement that NHSX will merge into NHS England and Improvement does not change these proposals. It will strengthen our ability to deliver on them. The new strategy function in NHS England and Improvement will emphatically continue to include the digital transformation of social care, bringing this agenda into the heart of the new transformation directorate.

To find out more about our work go to our section on the NHSX website or to get in touch with the team by emailing adultsocialcare@nhsx.nhs.uk.