It’s big and it’s clever but can digital resolve the crisis in social care?

Written by Pearl Roberts, Agilisys Care Lead & Client Development Director

Back in December, the government confirmed plans to allow English local authorities to raise council tax bills by an extra 6% over the next two years to pay for social care.  The proposals, announced by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, give councils the power to add a 3% levy to bills in 2017/18, and an additional 3% in 2018/19.  

Social care funding has fallen by 9% in real terms over the past five years, as local authorities have grappled with cuts in their overall funding from central government.

The ability to increase Council Tax may offer some degree of respite.  Indeed just last month Surrey County Council said that it would hold a referendum on plans to raise council tax by 15% amid pressures on its social care budget and children’s services.  Surrey Council’s Leader, David Hodge, said the scale of central government funding cuts and rising demand for social care and other services meant he saw no other realistic option.  

However, councils have warned that even if every local authority imposed the maximum extra levy, social care will still face a funding gap of at least £2.6bn by 2020 because of pressures from an aging population, inflation and the cost of paying the National Living Wage.

Certainly there is agreement that a long-term, sustainable solution is needed to fund rising social care costs and to look at the ‘care crisis’ across both health and social care.  A letter signed by Clive Betts, chairman of the Communities and Local Government committee, Public Accounts Committee chairman Meg Hillier and her Health Committee counterpart Dr Sarah Wollaston says a long-term solution can only be found if there is cross-party consensus.

They said a review should begin “as soon as possible” adding that the Commons Health Committee had already concluded that the social care system was at breaking point. “We also feel that the ongoing separation of health and social care is creating difficulties and avoidable barriers and inefficiencies. Any review should cover the two systems. We are calling for a new political consensus to take this forward.”

In the meantime, for many authorities it is neither politically acceptable to increase council tax nor would the additional monies generated be sufficient to meet service funding needs. Similarly, service pressures and community expectations are demanding more of local government. As a result, alternative approaches to providing care services are urgently needed.

At Agilisys Care we use a range of digital tools to help social care professionals in local authorities to deliver services quickly and more cost effectively.  

Key to our approach is an online solution to help manage demand – providing people with the right information and advice as well as the means to determine their care requirements and choose the care package that meets their needs.  By enabling those people who can to independently self-help to meet their health and social care needs, scarce resources can be better targeted to support the most vulnerable.

Agilisys is also using digital care solutions to support cross-practice professionals to provide consistent, transparent and Care Act compliant assessments. This can significantly reduce the cost of social care assessments, support planning and care commissioning, while providing measurable improvements to the citizen’s experience. 

In parallel we work with a series of innovative digital and technology partners to apply smart tech and apps to improve the provision of care. This includes a constant flow of interesting digital developments which, when fused with more traditional approaches to care, have the potential to improve the overall citizen experience as well as deliver cost savings:  for example ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), telecare for home assistance and monitoring, on-line GPs, peer-to-peer support in managing long term conditions, predictive analytics and community volunteer matching.

There is agreement that the traditional model of state provided care is no longer sustainable and that new models of care are both inevitable and essential. We are at a tipping point; digital can play a significant role in improving the customer experience, helping people to take control of their own care, and support local authorities to manage demand and rethink the way they deliver services.  

Pearl is responsible for Agilisys Care; she is leading on combining innovation and talent across Agilisys and its technology partners to create a digital social care experience that offers citizens greater choice and control, enables local authority clients to work across traditional boundaries and helps to deliver greater efficiencies and reduce costs.

With no clearly defined way forward at a national level and with the topic of health and social care continually hitting the headlines, Digital Leaders are being asked how digital technology could help deliver the vital step change our nation’s care services need.
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