Since joining Scottish Care in November 2021, I have been thinking about this a lot, and it has come up in conversations with Social Care providers over and over.Three of the biggest challenges facing Social Care are recruitment and retention of staff, and data exchange – the ability to share information digitally with regulators, commissioners, primary and acute care, and to have timeous exchange of data as equal partners in the care of citizens. 245,000 people access social care in Scotland, and an aging population means numbers will continue to rise, as will more complex levels of need.The inability of Health and Social Care to cope under pressure, translates to hours of unmet need – people going without essential care, and this is worryingly on the increase. Pressure is being felt everywhere in the Health and Social Care system, which is most often reported by the media as delays to hospital discharge. However, if we change the narrative around and consider the largely untapped potential for social care to be the executive of early intervention and prevention, then the need for hospital admission would decrease, with huge savings to the NHS.How might we move towards Social Care becoming a ‘springboard not a safety net’ as suggested in Derek Feeley's Independent Review of Adult Social Care, the starting pistol for the soon to be National Care Service? And in the remainder of 2023 what will enable this change?In Social Care, we have seen a paradigm shift in how we deliver and sustain services, largely necessitated by the pandemic. The ability to use technology to stay in touch and to be there, albeit remotely, has opened the door to further digital approaches and a cultural shift in attitudes to technology. We have momentum, what next?Change moves at the speed of trust and in the case of Social Care, the call to action is to work with us, something that to date has never been fully realised in the way that Health and Social Care Integration proffered. Investment is also sorely needed. Social Care providers are struggling to keep the lights on. It takes real courage to think about innovation under these conditions and to adopt digital systems and approaches, but that is what many are doing.As an example of this, care home providers in Dumfries and Galloway have recently introduced Digital Care Plans and eMar, electronic medication management, helping to enhance service delivery and outcomes for residents. Jim Gatherum from Notwen House, a residential care home in Lockerbie, told me that he thinks the next steps could be sensing technology, AI assisted diagnostics and real-time data sharing between Health and Social Care, with data fluidity being the key to unlocking unrealised potential.Working with industry partners will help us to achieve this and we welcome the opportunity to work with S5GConnect Dumfries, the Scotland 5G Centre’s test bed and innovation hub, with its ‘Shaping Digital Health & Social Care’ Innovation Challenge. This accelerator programme will help start-ups harness the power of 5G connectivity to create digital solutions to challenges faced in the sector and we urge SMEs to bring forward their ideas.By the way, if you are thinking that to function without friction sounds familiar, then perhaps you also practise yoga, the ambition of which is to function without friction.It’s a mantra worth remembering.
Nicola Cooper is Technology and Digital Innovation Lead at Scottish Care.