Helen Dempster, creative visionary officer at Karantis360, explains how technology holds the key to keeping older individuals safe at home and saving the NHS from being overwhelmed, not just for winter, but also in the long term.
This winter is exceptional with the healthcare sector caring for an overwhelming number of coronavirus patients – but each year there is a crisis.
As the winter season continues, there are a number of elements at play that are stretching the NHS and social care system to breaking point. Winter is a time when there is typically a surge in demand on our healthcare services with a spike in flu and seasonal illnesses, especially for older and more vulnerable individuals. Following a third national lockdown, the NHS has also moved to ‘level 4 status’ – its highest state of emergency alert as Covid-19 infections continue to rise.
So what impact is this having on the health and social care sector and how can it be mitigated?
Protect the NHS
We’ve already seen 50,000 people in the UK not having cancer diagnosed because of coronavirus disruption. Thousands of people are not visiting their GPs and those that do are facing delays and disrupted treatment due to the pandemic. With the prospect of the NHS having to postpone some services if it becomes overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, the outlook isn’t looking good.
When it comes to social care, COVID-19 has driven increased demand and mounting unmet need due to service closures and people declining support, a survey by the directors of adult social services has found. Research clearly states that the best place for the elderly is at home, but this can place strain on the already overstretched health service.
A key element of the government’s COVID-19 messaging to the nation is to ‘protect the NHS’. But overwhelmed social care services are one of the primary factors that continually put the NHS under strain. Protecting social care through reform and investment in technology will go a long way to supporting the NHS, ensuring it can cope with the current pandemic while also improving access to patient treatment.
Turning to technology
During the first wave of the virus, we saw failures with the ‘discharge to assess model’, with rushed hospital discharges leading to unmet care needs and a lack of support for patients leaving hospital. Not to mention the instances of COVID-19 rapidly spreading throughout care homes as a result. Technology solutions hold the key to safe discharge from hospitals and keeping individuals safe at home, with peace of mind that their health is being securely monitored by healthcare professionals and their family, in a way that they choose. Furthermore, groundbreaking technology can ensure that medical and GP appointments can still be attended virtually – allowing vital signs to be read remotely and ensuring that those who are reluctant to attend appointments in fear of catching the virus are safeguarded.
Social care needs to start harnessing technology now, and with the support of government funding to enable the care providers to engage with this much needed technology. This is essential if our loved ones are to receive the care they deserve, not just in the short term, but for the generations to come. Without this support the care sector will remain broken and the NHS – which often becomes an expensive care home – will fold with the sheer weight of Covid-19 pressures, leaving many vulnerable adults untreated and alone.
Consideration must also be given to the care and NHS workforce, the impact of the pandemic on their mental health and wellbeing has reached breaking point. They have been forced to face the virus head on without the necessary equipment at times to protect themselves, or those they were caring for. Furthermore, they experienced firsthand an unprecedented number of deaths and illnesses within the vulnerable community which takes a huge toll on one’s emotional wellbeing.
Continuing to navigate winter challenges as the weather turns cold and icy, which as history shows, brings its own pressures to the dedicated healthcare teams. How do we measure the wellness of the healthcare heroes who turn up everyday without questioning their own safety to protect others? Using technology to support the care workers and NHS staff in understanding their health and wellbeing must be a priority for the coming year.
A recent report identifies a ‘lost decade’ during which the government failed to act on reform recommendations, stating that without swift government intervention including urgent funding changes, England’s adult social care system could quickly become unsustainable. And given that research in this report was prepared prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, rapid action is now even more critical.
The NHS and social care sector being in crisis is, sadly, nothing new, but it appears it could now be approaching its breaking point just as the annual healthcare surge is beginning. Lessons must be learned from the pandemic and the government must prioritise the reform and reset of the social care sector as a key part of the Covid-19 plan to see us through the remaining winter season, and recovery into 2021.