The care sector’s increasing and constant demand for resources must balance between the challenges it faces and the continuous opportunities to improve patient outcomes. Ultimately, the key issues must be addressed, with care homes needing to answer 21st century challenges while operating within a system that simply hasn’t caught up yet.
At a panel meeting held in Blake Morgan’s London offices earlier in September, Martin Green, CEO of Care England, and Bhavna Keane-Rao, Managing Director of BKR Care Consultancy, spoke to Blake Morgan’s Head of Health and Care, Bruce Potter, about the future of care in the UK in front of an invited audience of leaders working in and around the care sector.
It was acknowledged that there have been tough times for the sector, dealing with covid and staff exhaustion, as well as occupancy levels stretching resources to their limits. Setting the scene, Martin suggested that the sector now needs to consider what is required to get to a better position, accepting that;
“…the government will not be the savior. Currently, care homes are dependent on local authority funding and diversification is needed: new models of care that integrate more efficiently and are attractive for the NHS to fund.”
Embracing modern technology in the UK care sector
As a part of Blake Morgan’s Future Health Conference, the meeting explored the future of the care sector, and the panel discussed the need to invest in modern technology as a key driver to future success.
Bhavna made the point that it is long past time for the sector to take a creative approach to answer challenges but in the UK, despite government funding being available for care homes to digitise, we are slow in taking advantage of the innovations that are available now. She said: “We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to embrace it.”
Bhavna has seen first-hand how technology is significantly improving the quality of life for care home residents in countries such as Denmark, Japan and Australia. Innovations include acoustic monitoring, sensors indicating wellness levels, automated lighting and sophisticated artificial intelligence and robotics. These innovations not only improve the quality of care and give residents a heightened feeling of independence but also make better use of scarce available resources.
Martin discussed the need for businesses to invest, he said;
...those that invest now in technologies will thrive, and those that don’t will find themselves against the wall. If you do not invest, you do not survive as a business, ultimately.
At the other end of the scale, Bhavna shared her experience that some care homes are still operating with virtually no technology, even digital record keeping is inadequate at times, and email facilities are sometimes not readily available. Bhavna said that often;
“…inspectors working for regulators are not necessarily tech savvy enough and aren’t effective in monitoring this, as a result the gap in digitisation, and in turn effective record keeping and benchmarking, is wider than it should be.”
As a whole regulation needs to be at the centre of service improvement, but the reality of the function is different in the care sector to other vital industries. Comparing the approach to the aviation sector Martin pointed out that;
“…if 747s were falling out of the sky then leaving it up to each individual airline to get it right and ensure the safety of passengers would be ridiculous.”
The discussion suggested that care sector regulators take a step back with operators taking responsibility for the quality of care provided on a more individualised basis. Bhavna pointed out that;
“the regulator needs to be more balanced, advisory and have more teeth when it comes to taking action against those very poor providers.”
For funders looking to finance care homes the implication that reporting produced by regulators may not give a full picture is concerning. A leader in the banking sector asked what other avenues are available for investors to look to. Admitting this is a difficult issue for the funder, Martin suggested delving into alternative reports and other sources of verification such as local media, press releases and local authority reporting.
Consultants such as BKR Care Consultancy will often work on behalf of the bank or funder and undertake their own assessments in conjunction with the existing reports that are available.
Innovative models of care
As well as new technology, our panel discussed the need for a fresh approach to business structures in the sector. Martin suggested that structure must be thought about in terms of sustainability. A good start would be to look at the pros and cons of models in other sectors, such as student accommodation. He pointed out that;
“a new approach to the traditional care home business structure and diversification in this area is a debate the finance sector can be contributing to.”
In summary, our panel agreed that the long-term future of the care sector is at stake and changes are needed to improve the quality of care consistently. Advancements in technology can improve the sector but only where it is invested in. Creative thinking and a fresh approach alongside a long hard look at the role of the regulator in monitoring and retaining a quality baseline standard, is needed to work toward a brighter future for care in the UK.
Blake Morgan’s Future Health Conference will continue with an online programme from 15-17 November. As well as sessions focusing on key issues such as procurement and medical innovation and technology, Bhavna Keane-Rao will join us once again alongside Blake Morgan’s Head of Health and Safety Clare Rawle to discuss critical incident management in care homes and Bruce Potter and Head of Public Law Eve Piffaretti will deliver an overview on the future of health and care in the UK considering what is on the horizon that leaders in the sector need to be aware of.
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