Scottish Care, as the representative body of independent social care providers of care home, care at home and housing support services, has been working over several years with colleagues in the tech and digital sector and with national and local government.

We have been extremely grateful for the support of the Scottish Government Technology Enabled Care team and for the work of our former technology and digital innovation lead Dr Tara French and now Nicola Cooper, who have set in motion a number of initiatives across Scotland. These all have citizens at the heart of design and user autonomy and control are inherent with all our developing innovative solutions and projects.

Some of this work is at an early stage of development and others are more advanced. The work programme is extensive, but currently includes:

Care Futures – Care Technologist

The care technologist role was conceived through work undertaken on the future of social care carried out with the Glasgow School of Art School of Innovation and Design. The project focus is on exploring new roles in the care sector to diversify career pathways and to meet the needs of service users for choice that includes digital or technology-based components in their care package.

The next phase of the project is due to commence in June 2022 for a period of 12 months.

In addition, this work will be supported by a facilitator role provided by Stirling University and IMPACT – Improving Adult Care Together – which is a UK-wide centre for implementing evidence in adult social care, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, and the Health Foundation.

Shaping Digital Health and Social Care – Innovation Challenge

We are also working with The Scotland 5G Centre, the national platform accelerating the adoption of 5G to realise its economic and societal potential for Scotland. As a ‘challenge owner’, we have helped to identify the challenges within the health and social care sector and provided insight into the sector’s need of innovative technology. Scottish Care will support the activity taking place at the testbed from inception through to post-challenge completion with the winning companies supporting our members and providers to work towards solving some of the core challenges currently being faced across the country.

There are some consistent themes and threads throughout Scottish Care’s work in this space and these are best summarised as a human rights-based approach which enhances individual autonomy and personal control and which seeks to address the individual needs of the person rather than necessarily addressing system or structural deficiencies as the primary starting point.

I think this last observation is important. How we commence or design an intervention has profound implications for not just the efficacy of the product, but the adoption of new technologies. ‘Nothing for us without us’ is a general principle from the disability civil rights movement that should, I believe, be at the core of all technology and digital innovation in social care.

We need to say goodbye to approaches and systems which suck limited resource into grandiose schemes which offer little value and product. We need to call into question the value of any work which does not fully include, engage, and collaborate.

Social care as a whole sector is the fourth economic contributor to the Scottish economy – there is massive untapped potential in working alongside a sector which employs nearly one in 14 employed Scots. Yet in the past, the innovative entrepreneurship of independent care providers has played second fiddle in an environment which has focused too much on health and clinical system needs and solutions.

Look anywhere internationally and the future is aged tech – which is the fastest-growing consumer market seeking to deliver all that enables people to be in control of their living, including their later age and dying. Yet we have disappointingly not been sufficiently adventurous in that space in Scotland.

Societal affordability demands a reformed system where health and care outcomes are increasingly delivered in the person’s own home or in a homely setting. The challenge for all stakeholders is to work together beyond the predictability of the familiar to innovate and re-design. Such developments have to be rooted in clear ethical and human rights principles, the development of which I’m proud to say Scottish Care has led the way internationally, alongside others such as the ALLIANCE and VoX Scotland. We have together published a document detailing the principles.

There are real opportunities for us to do much more collaborative and innovative work. Social care, together with aged care, is where today’s design work creates a more inclusive and ethical tomorrow.

Donald MacAskill is the chief executive of Scottish Care the largest group of independent sector social care providers across Scotland