NHS Digital to fund digital social care pilots across UK

Robotics and the use of biometrics to assist autism patients are among the digital pilots being funded

NHS Digital has dedicated funding worth up to 720,000 to support local councils' digital innovation pilot projects to help social care recipients.

The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme (SCDIP), managed by the Local Government Association (LGA), has awarded a dozen councils 20,000 each to tackle local challenges with digital technology.

The programme features wide-ranging proposals that include testing the public perception of deploying robotics in the care system, exploring the role of biometrics in assisting patients with autism, and using machine learning to process large datasets to predict future social care demand.

"The successful projects span a wide range of areas, from assistive technologies to predictive analytics," said NHS Digital's programme lead for the social care programme, James Palmer.

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"This funding will give the local authorities a chance to identify and investigate a local problem before testing out a potential solution."

An initial 20,000 was awarded to 12 local authorities, of the 80 that applied for funding in May, for a 'discovery phase' lasting three months, after which point six councils will receive up to a further 80,000 to design and implement their proposals.

The 12 local authorities chosen are:

  • Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Bracknell Forest Council
  • South Tyneside Council
  • Lincolnshire County Council
  • Nottingham City Council
  • London Borough of Havering
  • London Borough of Haringey
  • Shropshire Council
  • Cambridgeshire County Council
  • Isle of Wight Council
  • Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Sunderland City Council.

In the discovery phase, the six successful local authorities will be expected to have developed their proposals beyond an initial outline, and to have recorded outcome measures and outputs, any risks and issues, implementation timelines, and lessons learnt.

"They will be sharing their experiences from the pilot projects, adding to our collective knowledge of how digital can effectively be used to support the delivery of adult social care," Palmer continued."There are some really exciting proposals this year and I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes."

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Applications for the implementation stage are due on 28 September, with the final phase of the programme lasting from November 2018 to March 2019, where the councils will have developed products or services that can be tested with end users.

The latest round of funding is the second year of the programme, after 19 local authorities were awarded up to 50,000 apiece to implement new digital approaches to delivering social care as part of the 2017/18 Local Investment Programme.

"The councils selected have chosen some important areas to address ranging from exploring new methods of linking residents with community resources to addressing social care provider workforce shortages," said Kate Allsop, Mayor of Mansfield District Council and digital lead on the LGA's community and wellbeing board.

"In the next three months they will be engaging with users to explore whether there are digital solutions to improve the lives and experiences of people needing social care. Projects will be designed around the needs of service users and complement the work of health and social care professionals. We will ensure that learning is shared across the sector."

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NHS Digital's commitment to fund the SCDIP follows its commitment of 1.5 million to support projects geared towards boosting data-sharing between health and social care organisations.

The health service's digital arm has invited local authorities, social care providers and academics to apply for grants by 2 July to help with projects facilitating the flow of data back and forth between health and social care bodies, as well as exploring how machine learning-powered tools can be harnessed to boost early intervention.

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