Professional Comment

Systemic Issues Facing The Care Industry Are Nothing New. Prioritising Digital Maturity Can Help Tackle Them

By Martin Lowthian, Quality and Governance Specialist, Access Health, Support and Care (

The critical problems facing the care sector remain relatively constant year on year, with workforce challenges and budget constraints continuing to feature strongly in this year’s Pulse Check from Care England. It’s a similar story in the CQC’s annual assessment of the state of health and adult social care from last year, the themes from which have featured heavily in the government’s latest research briefing on the sector.

A ‘care gridlock’ remains, in part, due to delayed hospital discharge affected by capacity challenges in social care, this combined with staff shortages means providers are actually having to turn down admissions.

However, the last 12 months have been worsened by the cost-of-living crisis impacting on providers’ ability to pay for staff and services in line with inflation, as well as rising energy costs, with some providers citing increases of as much as 350%.

Unfortunately, these factors are making recruitment and retention even more difficult.

The repeated findings from the likes of Care England and CQC paint a challenging picture for social care providers. Alongside a need for increased sustainable funding into care services to tackle these issues, we should consider how technology can play its part.

Recruiting and retaining staff
Recruitment and retention of staff is a leading challenge affecting care access, with poor perceptions of the industry playing a key role.

Our customers tell us they feel overworked, exhausted and stressed, sometimes to the point of becoming ill, injured or leaving their job altogether. And whilst this year’s rise in the national living wage is a positive step for workers, they need continued support to manage their workloads and look after their wellbeing.

A part of the solution could include home care rostering and scheduling software, or medication management and communication tools. Each can help to release time from unnecessarily manual administrative processes, freeing up time to care for individuals and helping staff to feel less overwhelmed by their workload. Smart rostering of who supports which client can also reduce travel time, which in turn helps reduce the provider’s carbon footprint and reduce the day-to-day travel expenditure for staff. These kinds of changes, alongside action from government through things like the Care Workforce Pathway are great steps forward to empower workers, improve perception of the sector, and boost recruitment.

Homecare, Supported Living and residential services often use our planning solution to produce personalised, digital care plans, record observations, and identify trends and warning signs. New Directions, a specialist autism and mental health community support service said that using the solution has saved staff time, reduced stress, and allowed them to spend more time with service users. They believe that having the digital analysis and reports also helped them to achieve an ‘outstanding’ CQC rating.

Improving home care
Significant inroads to the ‘care gridlock’ can also be alleviated by introducing efficiencies into the delivery of home care, which has been proven to help minimise, and in some cases, mitigate the need for people to require residential or hospital care in the future.
Individuals can sleep in their own beds, eat the food they like and be with their friends and family. However, it can be difficult to deliver these services to everyone when demand outstrips the capacity of the workforce and providers are having to hand back contracts.

By implementing technologies such as digital brokerage systems, we’ve seen the time taken to deliver homecare services reduce by 35%, by improving the hospital discharge process. Similarly, the use of technology enabled care means individuals can be discharged from hospital sooner as they receive appropriate levels of care at home. The use of smart sensors linked to intuitive software means care teams can be alerted to urgent issues or spot unusual habits/patterns and prioritise the workforce and home visits accordingly.

Levelling up
This type of digitisation allows providers to reduce administrative burdens and give time back to staff, which is vital for addressing the fundamental issues facing the industry. However, it is important to remember that care providers are at different stages of digital maturity. This can be due to a lack of adequate funding or integration and incompatibility between systems.

To help tackle this variation, providers should prioritise implementing digital care records. It’s the most effective way of joining up the care journey and providing services that are centred around the individual, and why government set a target for 80% of social care providers to have one in place by the end of March 2024.

Having a system that provides a holistic view of service users will enable population health management, provide a better understanding of demographic variation and enable care to be more evenly distributed to reduce health inequalities. And with applications open for the latest wave of funding through the Digitising Social Care programme, there are new opportunities for this type of levelling up.

To determine the best approach to this type of digitisation, a strategy is vital. It should be set around a strong vision and goals, with a long-term approach that considers what is needed now, and how needs might evolve over the next five years and beyond. And crucially, who to involve to make it happen. Budgets are tight, so it is important to have a roadmap of what, when and how these changes are going to be made, and with what funding.

Digital as an enabler
Digital should always be used to enhance, not replace services, to allow people to receive care in the way that suits them and is medically safe. All the while, it should reduce care worker time spent on unnecessary tasks, enabling them to work smarter not harder, and spend more time with their clients. And having aligned, informed strategic digital goals and sharing efforts across organisations will ensure technology can play and important part in addressing the issues that persist, and make sure care can be delivered to the most vulnerable in our society in a safe and efficient way.