Revolutionising Care: Empowering Unpaid Carers

James Townsend, CEO and Co-founder of current DigitalHealth.London Accelerator company Mobilise, shares his perspective on how the Department of Health and Social Care’s Accelerating Reform Fund (ARF) will impact the support system available for carers across the UK.

Aimed to boost the quality and accessibility of adult social care in England, last year’s announcement from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) of the £42.6 million Accelerating Reform Fund (ARF) is set to rapidly change the future of impactful carer support.

With the deadline for expressions of interest recently passed, we are now on the brink of seeing the scale of impact ARF may have. Collectively, we look forward with anticipation to learning which proposals are selected and funded, and who is involved with them. With several priorities listed in the fund which are aimed at innovating carer support, the projects funded will shape the landscape of the next decade or more of support for unpaid carers across the UK.

The most recent census data indicates the number of reported carers sits at just over 5 million in the UK (Carers UK estimate the figure to be even higher at 11 million), with nearly 5% of the population (England & Wales) providing 20+ hours of care per week.

We can only anticipate the number of unpaid carers will only grow in the future. Meeting that need with the limited resources available requires radical imagination and creativity. Not only is there a moral case for doing so, but a financial one too. Left with inadequate support, carers rapidly experience burnout – an emotionally painful and societally expensive situation, which typically costs local authorities upwards of £14,70011 per year in replacement care costs.

Unpaid carers tend to be aged between 45-65, meaning they are often pulled in three directions: their caring role, parenting responsibilities and working life. Services to support these groups effectively will need to extend beyond a traditional 9-5 model.

The demographics of unpaid carers are changing. Technology is opening up new avenues for support and there’s an increasingly urgent financial need for effective carer support. This all means we need to think radically, now, about how we support and equip those looking after a family member, loved one or friend. And this Accelerating Reform Fund presents that once-in-a-generation opportunity – but only if we’re bold enough to seize it.

Mobilise is working with several Integrated Care System (ICS) regions across the country to provide digital projects, using this fund to take a step into the future of carer support.

While we will need to wait for the new projects to be announced, it is possible to make some predictions about the changes ARF will have in store. 

Increased Collaboration

In many ways, the Accelerating Reform Fund has been cleverly designed by the DHSC. Its mechanics of forcing bids to come from Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) regions as opposed to individual Local Authorities (LAs) have been time-consuming in parts of the country, but deliberate. The DHSC is keen to foster greater collaboration between the different adult support services and LAs within ICSs.

Already we’re seeing the impact of this – I can think of several ICS regions where the respective LA carers leads met together for the first time to prepare their bid for the ARF. I predict these connections will remain and will grow over time so that the ICS region becomes a much clearer unit for driving carer services. This increase in collaboration should foster more creativity, innovation, and better outcomes for carers.

Digital Services

As the power of technology only grows, I expect to see more carer support services moving online, where reach and impact are possible at a lower ongoing cost. And with that, I also expect we will see the range of digital services available rapidly expand.

In the early 1990s when many carers centres were first established, there was no option but to provide support through analogue channels – email and the internet were only just being invented, let alone widely adopted. Today, the vast majority of the population is online (93% of the UK population is connected via mobile internet devices) and expects to access services and support through digital channels.

But far beyond the expectations of users, technology opens up a wide range of opportunities to support that could never have been conceived of in the last century. Experiences through the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated not only that it was possible to communicate through online channels, but that carers found they were meaningfully impactful – and that accessibility often increased when digital options were offered.

New technologies allow carers to connect with support in ways that look quite different to what has gone before. Today, Mobilise is supporting a community of around 70,000 carers – facilitating connections to other carers and key information, around the clock. That would never have been possible through face-to-face support networks.

While we primarily exist to support unpaid carers in the UK in as many ways as we can, Mobilise is also a technology company. As such I will be watching the growth in this area with excitement, as development in digital offerings will only increase the reach and volume of support we can give to unpaid carers across the UK. 

You can read more about the benefits of incorporating digital solutions into carer support in a human touch vs digitalisation, written by my colleague and Co-Founder, Suzanne. 

Building a Community for Carers

This brings me to the role that communities must play in carer support. Building these communities, which bring together carers and their wealth of experience from all walks of life, becomes much more possible in an online setting.

Hilary Cottam encourages us to see services less in the transactional models, which so often dominated the Twentieth Century, and instead to move towards a relational, community-based approach to equipping people. In connecting with others, for practical guidance, emotional support – or even sometimes just to find the humour in a dark and often absurd situation – we create something of value in itself: a new relationship.

Having access to this group is fantastic. I’ve found more valuable information from Mobilise and its community than any other source.

Carer from the Mobilise Community

It may be tempting to view the world of ‘digital’ and ‘tech’ as populated by soulless online portals, or the eponymous ‘self-scan checkout’ where computers bypass the need for social interaction. But technology is also creating communities and relationships where we can depend on and learn from each other.

With the support of DigitalHealth.London and Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London, we are using the ARF opportunity to find new ways of supporting both local authorities and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) to develop systems that truly work to support carers.

With the ARF offering, and opportunities within digital care set to potentially transform the world of social care, there’s a huge moment to redefine the support available for carers.

Let’s Make Change Happen in Your Area

Mobilise is currently working with local authorities and NHS bodies from the tip of Scotland to the south coast of England. We’re using technology in innovative ways to meet the needs of a new group of carers – 80% have never previously accessed support for their caring role. And we’re able to do so at a tenth of the cost of traditional approaches.

Our solutions can be deployed in a locality within days, bringing carers closer to existing services and a community of their peers.

If you’re interested in partnering with Mobilise to supercharge your carer support operation for the future, drop me a line. To stay up to date with the latest news from Mobilise sign up to receive our monthly newsletter, or follow us on LinkedIn.

Mobilise is currently in Cohort 7 of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.

The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme is funded by the UK Government via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). It is delivered by the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London in partnership with the Office of Life Sciences, CW+, Medicity, NHS England, the Mayor of London and the Levelling Up Fund.

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  1. Cost modelling from Surrey County Council Department of Health: Economic Case for Local Investment in Carer Support:1 ↩︎