All you need to do is switch on the news to hear about the strain the NHS is currently experiencing. There are multiple reasons for this, including our aging population, the persisting impact from Brexit and the continuing pressures from the COVID19 pandemic.
We know that ~25% of the health and social care work force are due to retire within the next 10 years and in the next ten years we will need ~27% more staff than today. That leaves a potential gap in the work force of a staggering 52%. Sadly, the pressures on our NHS are only set to increase.
How do we bridge this gap? How do we meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society – is the solution, or part of the solution, Technology?
The Care Show at the NEC in Birmingham had 90% of the exhibition stands showcasing technology to improve healthcare. I believe care homes and hospitals across the UK are starting to adopt more technology. Technological innovations including smart home devices, AI-based tools, and patient monitoring equipment are being adopted to better serve the needs of those requiring care whilst at the same time reducing some the strain on care staff.
I had a chat with one solution that was presented to me, a care robot called “Pepper”. The robot can hold simple conversations, learn individuals interests and preferences and even perform some simple tasks. International trials found that they boost the mental health and reduce loneliness of residents and patients. After all, when did you last see a healthcare professional that wasn’t rushing from A to B and actually has time to sit and talk to someone?
The wheeled robot that I met moves independently and gesture with robotic arms and hands and are designed to be “culturally competent”, which means that after some initial programming they learn about the interests and backgrounds of care home residents. This allows them to initiate rudimentary conversations, play residents’ favourite music, teach them languages, and offer practical help including medicine reminders.
Is technology going to replace human staff in the care environment? No, I believe human staff will always be required in the care environment, but maybe some of these amazing technological innovations can help to fill lonely periods when staff may not have time to keep residents company.