NHSX publishes reviews on digital skills and technology in adult social care

NHSX has published new reviews into digital skills and technology within the adult social care sector.

The reports, which were conducted by Ipsos MORI, the Institute of Public Care (IPC) at Oxford Brookes University, and Skills for Care, were released last week, alongside the Department of Health and Social Care’s white paper on plans for adult social care reforms across the next 10 years. This included an announcement that there would be £150 million of investment in digital, including care-tech to support people living independently, and funding for scaling and ideas.

In June 2021, representatives from across the adult social care sector were invited to contribute to two reviews to focus on digital skills and technology. The first review sees Ipsos MORI and the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University focus on scaling digital technology innovation, while the second review sees the organisations join up with Skills for Care to concentrate on digital skills and capabilities. The researchers received 2,750 survey responses and conducted almost 200 interviews.

As well as considering technologies currently in use, and how they are used, the two reviews asked several user groups – including adult social care staff, people with care and support needs, unpaid carers, local authorities, and regulated care providers – to share their views on digital technologies and their levels of skill and confidence when using them.

NHSX says that the reviews found “both general and group-specific barriers to and enablers of faster uptake of digital technologies”.

This led to the development of “recommendations for accelerating digital transformation” with “five cross-cutting themes”: involving end-users in ‘developing a sector-wide vision’ for digitisation, including strategies for each user group; developing co-produced standards and systems to support implementation; ‘raising awareness and knowledge’ of digital technologies across the sector and among end-users; improving access to funding and procurement support; defining the ‘specific digital skills needed by user groups in the ASC sector’ and providing targeted training and support, including for digital leaders.

Other summarised findings from the reviews included:

  • Participants associating digital technology with benefits such as better quality of care and outcomes, improved working practices and efficiency.
  • Differing views on financial benefits – with some care providers surveyed holding ‘mixed views’
  • ‘Basic, digital technology for care and support was widespread but mixed’, with digital communication, including email and video calling, described as ‘common’ among all but those people with care and support needs and unpaid carers aged 85 and over.
  • ‘Access to and use of technology was lower among care workers than other groups in the workforce’.
  • There was an openness among the workforce to using digital tech ‘more widely’.
  • Consensus among managers that there are ‘gaps in the digital skills of the frontline workforce’, predominantly in basic digital skills, with age an ‘important factor concerning confidence’. Younger groups of staff were found to be more confident in their skills, with older staff more comfortable in asking for support and more interested in developing digital skills.
  • The digital skills and confidence of people with care and support needs and unpaid carers ‘varied greatly’.
  • Barriers to the development of digital skills and tech adoption were noted as including a variation in familiarity and opportunity to use technology, awareness and knowledge about what was available, anxiety and stress generated by the introduction of new technologies, concern that technologies could replace face-to-face support, budget pressures, the lack of a digital vision for the sector to build on, ‘the diverse nature of the demand for digital care technology’, and a need for stronger digital leadership in the sector.
  • Enabling factors for overcoming barriers, meanwhile, included better signposting, information and advice about solutions, as well as hands-on support for learning and troubleshooting, for people with care and support needs and unpaid carers.
  • For suppliers, a key enabler was a ‘clear and comprehensive vision for digital technology in ASC from government”, public financial support and ‘opportunities to learn about the needs of the ASC sector’.
  • While care providers required more funding for upskilling and investment, and some of the enablers for the workforce were noted as improving awareness of how technologies can lead to better care outcomes, as well as support to improve their digital skills.
  • For the ASC sector as a whole, enablers were identified as ‘ensuring resources are available when investment in technology needs to be made, even if the financial returns on the investment are realised in the medium to long term and/or elsewhere in the system’, and that ‘support is needed to develop a technology market which works for suppliers and end users, given purchasers may be large or small organisations or individuals, with varying levels of knowledge and resources’.

To read the reviews and recommendations in full, visit the Ipsos MORI website.