The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care recently addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity at the launch of their longer, healthier lives strategy.
It was promising to hear that he wants to focus less on the ageing society and more on healthy longevity, a term that is increasingly being used, along with ageing well. For 70 years, NHS’ existence has been focussed on life span, and with great success due to medical advancements, research and treatments. Now, with this success in life span, it needs to focus more on health span; living healthily and independently.
At the launch, Matt Hancock defined three main areas of focus to enable this to happen; People and Place; It’s Not Just the NHS; and Technology.
Technology is definitely being recognised as a tool in itself that can improve health and social care efficiency and quality going forward, but it’s also important to acknowledge how technology can support these other areas of focus, and not be treated in isolation.
People and Place
Technology has a part to play in supporting demography and economy. When used well, technology should harness the power of data effectively.
With this power comes the ability to learn – to be able to understand demography and the challenges associated with the population and how it ages.
What is exciting about the technological revolution is how it could hugely improve our access to healthcare, but in addition, reduce the burden on healthcare professionals. Artificial Intelligence will change how personalised care can be delivered, enabling a more comprehensive insight into the health and wellbeing of the patient. And with this proactive approach comes the potential to reduce the need for referrals and outpatient appointments.
Matt Hancock also talked about the right environments for people to live in. Are their homes warm enough? Is their health affected by the area in which they live? Environmental sensors are an exciting developing area for us currently, one which will provide an even more detailed picture of the health of individuals.
Sensors around the home give a greater insight into a patient’s wellbeing and can help identify weaknesses in the property, such as noise, temperature, humidity and ventilation, that could be affecting someone’s health.
And finally, there is a need to encourage active lifestyles, along with ensuring the infrastructure is in place to support this. ARMED is already proving popular with the older generation, giving them the independence and drive to take ownership of their own activity levels; surely the first step to embedding further active lifestyle choices.
Furthermore, this is also assisting a wider circle of support such as family members, who become more proactively aware of changes within their loved one’s conditions. The ability to support individuals, particularly when living far apart, is challenging, however the key to sustainability will be with solutions such as ARMED providing valuable insights at an earlier stage.
It’s not just the NHS
The Secretary of State reported that around a quarter of what leads to longer, healthier lives is the result of what goes on in hospitals. The rest is down to genetics, the environment and the lifestyle choices we make.
Self-care will continue to be an important factor in reducing pressure on the NHS, encouraging and engaging the older generation to take responsibility for their own health and ‘age well’.
As technology and telecoms networks grow exponentially, the use of wearables, home based sensors and the Internet of Things will become the norm. Virtual doctors and home health screening tests to enable self-diagnosis, will offer an alternative to those who struggle to visit their GP.
Technology provides the ability for people to become more aware of their own health, and the issues that could be causing ill health, such as sleep quality, hydration, heart rate and muscle wastage. Not only can assistive technology highlight these areas, but it can also help to reduce, or even remove, these health concerns.
The Technology itself
Finally, technology in the health and social care industry is being taken seriously, and we hope that 2020 is the year that embraces a much-needed culture change.
The government has promised funding, resources and support for the health and social care during 2020 with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care commenting: “I want to harness the best digital technology to improve care for patients and ease the burden on our staff. And to do that, we need to get the basics right. Too often, outdated technology slows and frustrates staff, and prevents them from giving patients their full attention and the care they deserve.”
However, despite they hype and recognition of the benefits of technology, there is still resistance. Through holding webinars and gaining feedback via surveys, professionals have told us that they recognise assistive technology has a place in improving quality and efficiency of care delivery, yet there are still barriers and challenges.
Senior management must receive the education and support needed to implement the right type of technology for their customers and staff.
The NHS long term plan envisages a system that is more proactive in the services it provides, using prediction and prevention to keep more people well instead of just treating them when they’re sick. Technology gives us the ability to provide services which are proactive, personalised and can be joined together.
This ongoing support and recognition will ensure providers and local authorities can make informed decisions about the technology available, whether it is for community settings, housing, reablement or residential care.
As technology providers specialising in health and social care, we want to see smarter delivery of care, alongside independency and improved health and wellbeing for the end user.
We want to assist in the journey of adding Life to Years.