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Social care digital revolution could lead to £127m in benefits

Analysis of NHS Digital’s social care programme shows new ways of working could reduce hospital admissions and visits to GPs, and improve people’s quality of life

NHS Digital’s social care programme could bring significant benefits amounting to £127m of future improvements, according to an analysis.

The analysis of the programme found that new ways of working could reduce hospital admissions and visits to GPs, as well as improve people’s quality of life.

The £23m programme, which began in 2016 and finished this year, has funded more than 100 projects in social care, including remote monitoring technology in care homes, robotic technology to help carers, and an electronic red bag that accompanies nursing home residents when they go into hospital. The bag contains information about the person’s medication, medical history and safeguarding.

The programme includes several work streams and is expected to result in £127m in benefits.

James Palmer, head of NHS Digital’s social care programme, said: “I am delighted to see the impact that digital technology introduced through our programme has already had on people’s lives and the multitude of benefits it will bring in the years to come, both on individuals and on the wider health and social care sector.

“Our approach throughout has been led by users of the services and we have worked collaboratively with care providers and local authorities, which has given us high confidence that they can deliver outcomes and benefits for those commissioning, providing and receiving care.”

Workstreams within the programme include a digital social care programme and a social care digital accelerator programme, in which 69 local councils found innovative ways of using digital technology.

It also included a pathfinder programme, in which 26 pathfinders received funding to run several small pilots in their local areas, focused on standardising information and finding ways of sharing information digitally.

The latest wave of the programme saw organisations that provide and commission adult social care services sharing a £4.5m grant from NHS Digital to enable the development of digital services.

Read more about social care and technology

Mandy Thorn, vice-chair of the National Care Association, said the pathfinder programme has left a lasting legacy. “In particular, it has helped create stronger links between the adult social care provider sector, local authorities and the NHS, while empowering individuals to have their voices heard,” she said.

“The Care Provider Alliance is proud to have been an integral part of this programme and to have been involved in such transformational work.”

The pathfinder programme ended in March 2021, and the products developed from it can now be used by other organisations.

In March 2021, a commission on adult social care published a report calling for the government to take action to ensure digital social care becomes commonplace in local authorities and care providers. It said that although there are pockets of innovation across the country, not enough councils offer digital social care.

The commission called on the government to invest a minimum of £450m in “capital funding nationally to replace current care and housing technology infrastructure”.

Although there has been huge investment in healthcare technology in recent years, social care has not received the same level of funding and is far behind its counterparts in the NHS.

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