Engage: How digital technology can support care providers with winter pressures

Claire Smout, Head of Digital Skills and Holly Irwin, Head of Practice Innovation at Skills for Care discuss how digital innovations can support with the winter pressures facing the adult social care sector…

We know that the winter season, right through until March, can be the most pressured time for social care providers.

The temperamental weather, staff absence due to sickness or holidays, and the increase in illnesses facing people drawing on care and support during the winter months can all make this time of year the most challenging for providing consistent care and support for everyone who needs it.

We have a range of resources and information available on the Skills for Care website to support care providers with managing winter pressures, including our winter planning webinar.

As we ran a campaign at the end of 2023 focused on increasing #DigitalConfidence we also wanted to highlight how the use of digital technology can support people who draw on care during the winter period and ease winter pressures for care providers.

One of the biggest benefits of digital technology is that if used effectively it can support people to live in their own homes for longer. This reduces the number of people needing to be admitted into residential care or needing further medical intervention in hospital.

Artificial intelligence can play a vital role in supporting people to live well in their own homes. This can include smart heating systems which allow people to turn their heating on more easily, or even allow a relative or carer to control this to ensure that in the winter people’s homes are being heated adequately. Or it could be a smart watch which prompts people to move more regularly, as we can all be guilty of moving less when the weather outside is dull, cold, and rainy and we find ourselves at home most of the day. For people with support needs who are staying at home more often in the winter it’s important that they get up and move above regularly to regulate their temperature and to get exercise. Automatic lights which come on earlier as it gets dark in the winter can also ensure that people have adequate light throughout the day, which will reduce the risk of falls.

Technology also makes it easier for people to stay connected with their loved ones, or with services that offer check in and chats. This is even more vital in the winter when it might be more difficult for people to receive regular visitors and loneliness levels can rise. Being isolated can impact on both mental and physical health so it’s really beneficial to find digital solutions to ensure people can always be connected with others.

Digital technology can also support social care workers to work more virtually and reduce the need for driving in winter conditions.

Digital monitoring can also make it easier for care providers and health services to connect. For example, care workers can share health metrics such as blood sugar or blood pressure readings with doctors virtually. This can allow doctors to provide consultation virtually.

Digital Social Care Records (DSCR) also play a key role in reducing admissions to hospital during the winter. Having health data for all individuals you support stored in a DSCR makes it easier to monitor if an individual’s health is deteriorating and allows action to be taken sooner, lessening the likelihood of these progressing to a more serious nature.

We know of services who have seen a decrease in admissions to hospitals by using DSCRs.

Restore2 is a training resource which can support care workers to identify if a person’s health is deteriorating and be able to record this in their DSCR to alert health services accordingly.

There are also digital solutions available locally that can join people up with support in their area. For example, the Tribe project is a virtual marketplace for people seeking care and support. It’s a mobile application that people can download to find all kinds of care and support available in their area. This is something which local authorities can look at commissioning in their area.

Utilising data is another useful way to keep on top of winter pressures by monitoring staffing levels and training to be prepared for the increased challenges of winter. The Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) is a free and secure way for social care providers to store their staff records and keep on top of staffing levels and training records. This can help you to make decisions around where to plan and invest in support for winter pressures.

Promisingly we’ve been seeing funding being provided across local authority areas to invest in digital solutions.

A National Care Group care provider was awarded over £300,000 to implement an electronic medication administration record (eMAR) system to improve accuracy of recording medications.

NHS Greater Manchester and University of Manchester were funded £380,000 to determine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of using a digital falls prevention programme for older people living the in the community who receive care and support at home.

Reading Council received over £1million to trial and understand the benefits and potential of technology which uses sensors to monitor any significant changes to a person’s daily habits which may be a cause for concern.

Shropshire Council received funding of almost £1.2million to embed technology in people’s homes alongside a virtual care delivery service to help meet care and support needs digitally. This aims to support independence in the home, help people manage their daily needs and promote self-care.

Find out more about digital technology in social care with our #DigitalConfidence spotlight.

Pictured – Holly Irwin & Claire Smout (c) Skills For Care.