The role of health technology in preserving our care services

Keith Nurcombe, MD for O2 Health talks about the important role telecare has to play in addressing the ever increasing demands on health and social care resources.

Another day brings another headline warning that our health and social care services are vastly overstretched. This week, it comes in the form of an NHS confederation report, Papering over the cracks, which warns is that if we do not stop using NHS services as a type of plaster for the gap in social care services, the NHS will “buckle under the pressure.”

It is right that we should be concerned. With the population of over 65s due to rise by 50% over the next two decades, the number of people requiring social care is expected to shoot up, and with it so will the demand for assistive care. In short, we need new and innovative ways to deliver long term care on a grand scale that will not bankrupt us.

The new NHS confederation report stresses that in order to improve support services it is essential that we find government funding for the ‘practical and credible’ proposals of the Dilnot Commission.

As Andrew Dilnot alludes to in this commission one such solution is new healthcare technology, for example telecare, that can help transform the lives of individuals and carers. By allowing people to stay out of hospital and manage their own care, while still being able to call for assistance and lead an independent life, the overall costs of care and can be reduced – especially if new mobile solutions are used. These new technologies can allow users to get out and about safe in knowledge that they can access help wherever they are and, equally importantly, allow carer’s to rest assured that even in their absence care and support is available.

While it is vital that any new solution is patient centred, this ability for telecare to also benefit those in a position of care is vital. As rightly emphasised by Carers UK and Age UK, the ramifications of the increased pressure struggling social care services put on carers goes beyond the immediate impact on the lives of individuals. Analysis from Age UK found that an estimated £5.3bn has been wiped from the economy in lost earnings due to people who’ve dropped out of the workforce or been forced to forego pay owing to their caring responsibilities for older or disabled loved ones – something we can little afford in the current economic climate.

Sadly, without better support this too is something that is only set to increase. As the number of people with long term conditions rises, so will the number of people who find themselves taking on a caring roll for family members of loved ones. Carers UK estimate that by 2037 the number of carers will triple from three to nine million. With one in five carers forced to leave work entirely to cope with the demands of providing care, it is vital that we take advantage of advances such as mobile telecare to help support those who find themselves placed in the role of carer maintain their own independence while being able to ensure that their loved ones have access to the assistance they need.

While the problems facing our health and social care services are of such scale and complexity that there can be no one cure-all, I firmly believe telecare and telehealth have a vital role to play in helping us to rise to this challenge, and, combined with a more integrated approach to health and social care, will help us to effectively cope with the rising demand for effective and efficient care.