Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare

A new report is calling for the UK health and care system to embrace the rapid implementation of digital technology seen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and speed up the uptake of TECS across the system.

Published by global public policy institute Public Policy Projects (PPP) and Tunstall Healthcare, ‘Connecting services, transforming lives: the benefits of technology enabled care services’ closely examines the progress of digital innovation in healthcare over the past five months with specific regard to telehealth, telecare, telemedicine and assistive technologies.

The report uses a series of case studies to highlight how technology-enabled care services (TECS) are connecting health and care services and changing lives. The coronavirus outbreak has rapidly increased the adoption rate of such technologies, says Tunstall Healthcare, and PPP’s new report urges that momentum is maintained.

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This rapid adoption of TECS helps to reduce strain on health and care services, while the sector is already under immense pressure.

In outlining the potential of this technology for revolutionising health and care, PPP investigates how TECS have been adopted in the UK so far as well as making detailed global comparisons, drawing particular best practice examples from France and Sweden.

To aid the progress of TECS adoption in the UK, the report outlines some of the barriers to the uptake of TECS seen in recent years and makes a series of comprehensive recommendations that will speed the adoption of TECS, and of wider digital technology, across health and care.

Stephen Dorrell, Executive Chair of PPP, said: “The better application of technology to enable the reshaping of the health and care sector as a whole is one of the key challenges that the UK faces. Doing so would deliver significant benefits; most importantly in improving patient outcomes and service-user experiences, but also in reducing the strain on staff and carers, and potentially delivering cost savings or cost avoidance.

“The NHS doesn’t have an innovation problem; it has a replication problem: successful projects are rarely reproduced elsewhere in the system. This report highlights dozens of case studies in which TECS have been used very successfully and I hope it will encourage swift replication and adoption.”

When looking at some of the barriers to the widespread adoption of TECS, the report highlights that organisations such as CCGs, NHS Trusts and local authorities have different funding arrangements and timelines. This means TEC solutions are procured at different times, resulting in a lack of joined-up thinking when it comes commissioning products.

Furthermore, the report adds that there is often no commissioning or funding routes for TECS innovations. When funding is secured, there can also be additional challenges in agreeing on funding mechanisms for running monitoring centres or responding to emergency calls.

Gavin Bashar, Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare UK & Ireland, commented: “The last decade has seen an exponential rise in the use of technology in the home, with smart speakers, heating and lighting systems now commonplace. And yet this increased adoption has not been mirrored in health and care provision. The NHS is still using fax machines, and domiciliary care workers continue to fill in paperwork in folders to record care visits.

“The current Covid-19 pandemic has starkly illustrated why this has to change. Technology connects people, it enables integrated care provision and empowers people to manage their own health and wellbeing. It must play a pivotal role in the way we remodel services in a post-Covid-19 world to create a true ‘healthcare’ system.”

To help speed up the widespread adoption of TECS across health and care, Tunstall Healthcare’s suggests a series of recommendations:

  1. The social care sector should receive greater support to truly become technologically enabled – the Government must ensure a minimum technology standard across providers
  2. More innovative finding models should be developed to support that support long term savings, rather than immediate cost dictating policy
  3. The rapid adoption of TECS during the pandemic should not be abandoned and should be built upon in the wake of COVID-19
  4. Digital upskilling of the health and care workforce should be a priority to ensure that transformational benefits of digital technology are realised
  5. NHS and third sector should collaborate to enable further independent living
  6. An evaluation of assessment methods must occur in order to assess the value of TECS and their impact
  7. Government must support the digital infrastructure to assist providers with switchovers to TEC platforms
  8. ICSs should drive integration through digital investment and support collaboration between all health providers

The launch of the TECS report follows major activity in the TEC sector, as telecare providers seek to gain market share in the UK’s market, which is the largest in Europe with an estimated 1.8 million telecare connections – 95 per cent of which are based on analogue connections.

In the past year, the sector has seen various M&As completed and partnerships formed, including the launch of Medequip Connect last September, Doro’s acquisition of Centra Pulse & Connect in October, Appello’s acquisition of Medvivo’s Careline business in December, Tunstall’s and AXA PPP Taking Care’s partnership in January, as well as SECOM’s partnership with Chiptech to launch a TEC service in July.

Most recently, Doro acquired Lancashire-based Eldercare – one of the top five TEC services in the UK – last month, and a new telecare venture also entered the market at the beginning of September 2020 – Careline Support.

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