Digital healthcare

NHS Digital could bring £127m worth of benefits to social care

A range of projects driven by NHS Digital’s Social Care Programme could result in £127m worth of benefits. The programme aims to expand the use of digital technology in social care through information and technology. Analysis of the programme found that the new ways of working could result in reduced hospital admissions and GP visits, as well as improved quality of life for patients.

The programme started in 2016, with an investment of £23m. It has already funded over 100 projects, including the development of apps, the roll out of new robotic technology to help carers, and tools to reduce the risk of falls.

Other initiatives included:

•An Electronic Red Bag to replace the physical ‘red bag’, which someone takes with them when they go to hospital from their residential care or nursing home. The eRedBag contains a standardised set of information about health and care, such as medications, medical history, personal preferences, and information about safeguarding.

•Remote monitoring technology that monitors care home residents, particularly through the night, to alert staff to unusual movements or people calling for help. Participating care homes saw a large reduction in falls, and in one case, provided immediate help to a resident who had suffered a cardiac arrest during the night.

James Palmer, Programme Head of the Social Care Programme at NHS Digital, said: “We are 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 they can deliver outcomes and benefits for those commissioning, providing and receiving care.”

The Social Care Programme also involved work on the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme and Social Care Digital Accelerator Programme, which saw innovative ways of using digital technology. It was developed by 69 local authorities. 

Another project which was part of the programme was the Digital Social Care Pathfinders, where new digital tools were adopted by participating providers to transform care. As a result of the project other providers are now able to benefit from innovations, such as a monitor which sends health data from care home residents to GP systems, and then uses artificial intelligence to predict their care needs.

Mandy Thorn, Vice Chair of the National Care Association, said: “The Digital Social Care Pathfinders 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, whilst empowering individuals to have their voices heard. The Care Provider Alliance is proud to have been an integral part of this programme and to have been involved in such transformational work.”

Ann Mackay, Director of Policy at Care England, added: “It is hard to single out individual projects from amongst the 16 - the proof of concepts, such as the use of integrated acoustic monitoring technology, having a long-lasting impact. In addition, the focus on predictive technology has been particularly impressive and the project with HFT (My Health Guide) has actually given people with learning disabilities a voice.”

The Digital Social Care Pathfinders project ran until March 2021, with the products developed now available to be used by other organisations. NHSX is at the forefront of the digital transformation of social care and will build on the work of NHS Digital.

Alice Ainsworth, Deputy Director for Social Care Tech Policy at NHSX, said: "This programme has demonstrated the huge potential benefits of technology in improving the quality-of-care people receive in the adult social care sector.

"We want to see many more people benefit from digital transformation and are focused on ensuring digital social care records are adopted across the sector by March 2024.

 "Every provider needs to have the foundations in place to unlock the benefits of digitisation for the people in their care, so they can confidently adopt the most effective care technologies, improve the quality and safety of the care they deliver, and enable much closer integration with NHS partners."

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