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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Engage: Getting innovation into care services

Written by Christine Asbury

So, technology and innovation in the adult social care market. Is it a contradiction in terms?  I’ve certainly been struggling to find and commission innovative technology for our new build home in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.  But at a Wayra event on 21 April (Technology in Social Care: innovation in adversity) I invited innovators to come and talk to me about their products, and was delightfully besieged by a flock of enthused techies, with some really interesting products that they’re developing.

The event was organised by Zoe Peden, award winning “Chief Juggler” of Insane Logic, which has developed MyChoicePad: a language and communication development platform for mobile tablets. Speakers Shirley Ayres (co-founder of the Connected Care network) and Bill Mumford (CEO of Macintyre) set the scene followed by a panel discussion and questions from entrepreneurs themselves.
And then there’s the £4m Long Term Care Revolution National Challenge, launched on 7 April  which aims to stimulate the development of innovative new products, services and systems that disrupt the institutional long-term care model.  The aim isn’t to reform what exists but to completely disrupt it; to create new approaches that address the lifestyle needs and wishes of dependent individuals, their carers, and families, delivering long term care options that are fit for purpose and fit for the 21st century. While I completely agree we need new approaches addressing people’s changed lifestyles and expectations, I’m not convinced revolution is the right description.  
I think that care homes have been left out of the conversation about innovation. The zeitgeist is that residential care is an outmoded approach that isn’t fit for purpose any longer; fed by the ongoing, and demoralising, public media campaign about poor quality care homes. Of course poor care exists and it’s essential to address that and to have a constant focus on values, training and resources to ensure high quality care.

But those of us genuinely working to deliver high quality residential care know there’s another story.  We will have multiple examples of how quality of life, physical and emotional wellbeing has improved for people when they move into our care homes.  It’s a vital service for people who need specialised care at a challenging time in their lives – and really importantly, it provides human contact, interaction, loving care and laughter. You don’t get that from a robot! 
Shirley Ayres contends - in her Provocation Paper for the Long Term Care Revolution – that, “A private front door and personal space matter to most people over 50, as do good neighbours and opportunities for easy, everyday social interaction”.  Yes, that’s what you get in a good quality care home, living as part of a community of people who mostly share the same challenges you face, albeit the front door being to your room rather than your flat.  Shirley also tells us that, “People who require long term care are not seen as customers with choices or people with views to be sought about the design of services”. Well it’s exactly how they are seen by many care home providers: and rightly discerning customers at that!
Like a number of other providers, we’ve been innovative: our new build homes are designed for small household groups, with a family feel: small intimate lounge and dining areas and a domestic kitchen at its heart (actually, all our older homes were refurbished on that basis over 15 years ago, so it isn’t a new concept to us).  In November, we introduced trained, qualified Oomph Exercise co-ordinators to all our homes and now run a minimum of 3 sessions a week in each home.  We haven’t seen anything in living memory that has created such a positive response from people – residents, families and staff!  This month, we committed to piloting Insane Logic’s MyChoicePad in a younger adult setting and with people with dementia, with the goal of improving people’s communication, choice and control, and interaction when their verbal communication is limited.

And next up: I’m inviting all those enthused techies to come and present their products to a Dragon’s Den of front line practitioners – and residents too – to see what might work, who we could collaborate with, and what we’d like to commission right now!
Shirley Ayres describes the grateful acceptance of status quo services by the current generation of oldest people “being challenged by baby boomers with very different expectations and aspirations about how they wish to live in later life”.  Yes!  Bring it on, I say.    

About the Author

Christine Asbury is Chief Executive at WCS Care, an independent, not for profit care provider with 12 care homes around Warwickshire. Christine is also a trustee of Leap which works with young people to gain and use conflict resolution skills; and a trustee of the Quality of Life Charitable Trust which focuses on helping and supporting older people, especially around dementia.

Christine was writing for the National Care Forum blog. You can follow this blog here: