The number of children looked after by local authorities in the UK has been rising steadily for the past 25 years. Government data shows 75,420 children were looked after by local authorities in 2018, up 4% year-on-year. In 1994, the figure was below 50,000.
The most common reason for children being looked after was ‘abuse or neglect’, with children aged between 10 and 15 accounting for 39% of those in care. Looked after children are five times more likely to offend than other children, with around 4% identified as having a substance misuse problem.
One of the challenges facing the social care system is staffing. For children and young people’s mental health services, for example, a government report has warned low staffing levels are the most common reason for delays in children and young people receiving care.
In adult social care, the highest vacancy rates are for regulated professions that include registered nurses, allied health professionals and social workers.
Amid continued funding uncertainty, health and social care services will need to pool resources to use technology to deliver common goals and improve the quality of care.
A government report has found some adult social care services are using innovative ways to utilise technology to improve the quality of care they can provide.
One care home, for example, is using assistive technology such as eye gaze or ‘head mouse’ software that enables young people with a physical disability to express their views, control their living environment and maximise their independence.
In the NHS, several measures have been introduced – digital monitoring devices for patients’ clinical observations have been cited as saving thousands of nursing hours, e-prescribing has led to reduced waits for pharmacy services, and electronic immediate discharge summaries have been introduced to help improve patient safety.
Technology is expected to play a wider role in social care in the future with the increased use of robotics, ranging from automated vacuum cleaners to the provision of social and cognitive assistance to care receivers, as well as physical assistance to both caregivers and care receivers.
The UK government will have invested £300m in researching the benefits of robotic technologies by 2020, according to the National Audit Office, with a further €700 million invested by the European Commission.
The use of robotic technologies presents ethical, social and regulatory challenges, and will present new risks to local authorities, such as increased cyber and privacy risks. New insurance products will be required to help manage the risks these technological developments will present,
Emerging technologies are not the only changes taking place to the risk landscape. With a wave of historical abuse allegations having emerged in recent years, local authorities now have a heightened awareness of the need to prioritise safety of the most vulnerable, as well as facing a potential liability risk from historical claims.
And climate change also poses a risk to the health and social care sector, with the potential need for infrastructure adaptation to ensure vulnerable people are not exposed to overheating, as well as existing risks being multiplied at times of extreme weather.
Against this challenging backdrop, local authorities must prioritise better risk assessment and ensure they have the most appropriate insurance coverage in place to mitigate against these emerging risks.
Published date: 21st May 2019
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