Claire Sutton                                                          

Digital Transformation Lead

National Care Forum

This week I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the other side of the world, in Sydney at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Australia Digital Health Summit.

My visit was both to deliver a keynote on Connected Care, from an English perspective, but also to hear other views. The list of speakers was varied with sessions delivered by both clinicians and non clinicians, and there was a strong focus on the Australian ‘My Health Record’ which is an online summary of their health record and is offered to every Australian on an ‘opt out’ basis. That said there was a running narrative throughout the 2 days that really did include Social Care (or Aged Care as it’s known in Australia) as being a part of the whole health and social care continuum.

Challenges in Australia

The challenges faced in aged care over in Australia are in may ways very similar to our own. The population is getting older due to longer life expectancy and lower birth rates with around one in six Australians being over 65 at the moment, this is predicted to rise to well over 20% of the population over the next 40 years. At the moment almost a quarter of a million people access aged care which represents an increase of around 30% in the last decade. Many aged care services are subsidised by the government, with individuals paying ‘top up fees’ if they are able to afford to do so, much like our own system.

Over the past few years several changes have been made to the sector to move towards increased consumer choice for individuals requiring care, enabling them to choose their care provider. The 2017 ‘Increasing Choice in Home Care’ reforms in particular offer individuals increased flexibility in selecting who provides their care.

One impact of these reforms has been a recent rapid increase in the number of care providers offering care services. I was fortunate enough to speak with some really knowledgeable people at the conference, one of whom explained that in the past couple of years alone the number of providers of home care, and care home operators has increased to around 900 in each case. I was struck by how low this number seemed.

Australia has a population of around 24million compared to our own 67million and even  if we assume the figures of 900 care home operators, and 900 home care providers to be two distinct groups without overlap then that suggests 1,800 providers of some form of aged care, compared to the estimated 14,000 or so in our own country.

The sector in Australia had, until these reforms been largely dominated by government-funded and not-for-profit care providers, with well over 50% of aged care still being provided by the not-for-profit sector. This figure is much higher than in England. Interestingly there isn’t at present an official government channel that regulates private aged care providers or reports on their quality. Although the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety which was established late last year published its interim report just a few weeks ago and the final report will recommend comprehensive reform of the aged care system, and it is speculated that this reform is likely to include some form of regulation.

Showcasing digitisation and use of technology in the UK

Although it is clear there are differences, as well as similarities with the two nations systems, it struck me that so many of the messages – in particular around digitisation and use of technology are ubiquitous.

In preparing my presentation, I have to admit I struggled a little, not because it’s difficult to find examples of innovation that contribute towards better care, and more connected care, but because I only had a 45 minute slot and it truly was tough to select which examples to go through.

From a personal perspective I found this to be one of the nicer dilemmas I’ve faced.

I made a conscious decision not to travel over 10,000 miles to bemoan the challenges we’re facing, but to really tell positive stories about some of the really great things we’re doing. I made use of some video clips featuring care providers from England because I truly believe that the most impactful way of showcasing the effects innovations have is by showcasing the very people at the frontline of health and social care. As I said in my presentation ‘they say it better than I ever could.’

Supporting the individual

I chose to keep the individuals who receive care and support at the heart of my message, and explained how the use of Amazon Echo devices has been a positive experience for Cornwall Care and the EPIC (eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) project at Plymouth University and about how Quantum Care are supporting the people they care for to become more digitally confident.

I talked about how WCS Care have embraced a suite of technologies to support their care in a digital way, and how Friends of The Elderly are working with Ally Labs and KareInn to link acoustic monitoring and electronic care planning to improve the care they offer. I went on to explain the work of Digital Social Care and how NHSMail is changing the way we communicate and make transfers of care in England before moving on to discuss how local projects can be scaled to impact the wider sector at a national level.

One message that appeared to resonate particularly strongly with the audience was the discussion around the red bag, and the future of the scheme – the digital red bag. A message that despite being delivered to a highly digitally literate audience showed that often it isn’t just about next generation predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, but more about how something as simple as ensuring the right information is available to the right people, at the right time can have the biggest impact for people receiving care.

I will make a full copy of my slides available soon and am always happy to discuss the messages further with any members.

But before I embrace a relaxing week in the sun I wanted to offer a truly heartfelt message of thanks to all the National Care Forum team, members, and partners who made the task of finding examples of digital care innovation to talk about being so brilliantly full of examples.

Follow Claire on twitter @ClaireLSutton

www.nationalcareforum.org.uk