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What you need to know about the emerging role of sustainability in social care

16/08/2023 minute read Health and Care

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has recently announced a new assessment framework that will consider a social care provider’s overall carbon footprint, as well as their plans on how they will reduce it, as part of evidencing a ‘well led’ care organisation.

This means that all UK care providers must demonstrate how they are contributing towards a sustainable sector.

Although sustainability is an important concept, it can be complex, especially for an already pressured and demanding service such as social care.

Nevertheless, like many other sectors, social care is considering how the drive towards sustainability will affect the future of the sector, with providers looking to see how they can help create a more sustainable service.

What does sustainability mean in social care?

Typically, sustainability is defined as the ability to meet current environmental, financial and social requirements without compromising future needs.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence’s Sustainable Social Care Programme aims to recognise each of these factors simultaneously to ‘…not only prevent future harm but also help make people, communities and services more resilient, and improve health and wellbeing for all.’

Environmental sustainability in social care

  • Protecting natural resources

Many social care services rely on resources that can cause avoidable pollution and waste to deliver care, such as paper, energy and petrol. Our Care Trends Report 2023 for instance, highlighted that 36% of providers are still using paper to record mileage and expenses.

One factor that can help the sector work towards improving its environmental sustainability is implementing cloud-based digital care records. By doing so, providers reduce their reliance on paper and do not have to worry about funding expensive and wasteful on-site hardware.

  • Optimising care delivery

Optimising care delivery is another factor that can affect environmental sustainability. With cloud-based software solutions, many processes can now be done anywhere and at any time, reducing the need for unnecessary travel or interventions. It’s a win-win situation: providers can ensure people are given the right care while reducing their carbon footprint.

Some social care providers may even be considering the design of their facilities. Perhaps working on structures that are easy to manoeuvre around so care delivery is quicker or introducing green spaces and energy efficient buildings that help enhance service user experience and minimise environmental impact.

Financial sustainability in social care

  • Recruitment and retention

Sustainability is more than just protecting our environment and natural resources. It also means being prepared for a growing demand and making sure the industry is in a position to keep up with it. And that includes making sure there are enough staff available for recruitment.

Its widely recognised that social care is no stranger to recruitment and retention struggles with 165,000 vacancies currently within the sector. Yet providers continue to work towards transforming the workforce to attract and retain enough skilled professionals. And by doing so, work towards creating a more sustainable and cost-effective service that supports its users.

  • Demand vs Supply

As we have already mentioned, sustainability means being prepared for future needs. It's important to recognise that as our population ages, more people will require assistance and support. Providers need to be financially prepared to meet this demand and provide high-quality care to those who need it.

And according to Skills for Care, the adult social care sector contributed around £51 billion gross value added (GVA) per annum to the economy in England in 2021/22 – a rise of 2% from the year prior. It’s clear that social care continues to have a significant impact on our economy, and this helps demonstrate the importance that the sector is financially sustainable for our growing and ageing population.

Social sustainability in social care

  • Equitable care

Social sustainability is also a key aspect of social care. It's about ensuring equal access and making sure that care is equitable, diverse, and affordable, no matter who or when someone comes into contact with the service.

Ensuring equal access to high-quality services for all individuals is a fundamental aspect of social sustainability. And these principles encompass both those working in the industry and those benefiting from its services.

  • Quality of life

Our population is living longer, with more people having multiple or complex conditions that require social care support. Providers have a responsibility to ensure that each service user’s individual needs and preferences are respected, being involved in decision making where possible. And purpose-built software solutions can help facilities this.

As a result, social care providers are likely to be able to deliver more effective and efficient care. This, again, can helps to remove inefficiencies and unnecessary interventions or resources and improve the overall service user experience.

How does technology help support a sustainable social care service?

According to the 2022 ‘A plan for digital health and social care’ paper, ‘Digital transformation of health and social care is a top priority for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England (NHSE). The system’s long-term sustainability depends on it.’

  • Streamline manual processes

The most notable benefit of going digital is that providers no longer need to rely on wasteful paper-processes or printing documents, helping build a more environmentally sustainable service.

Reducing physical paperwork can also help speed up care delivery, as teams are no longer needing to spend time filing through documents. Instead, they can immediately access plans at the point of care, updating them as they go along. And staff reduce the possibility of duplicating work as the central, cloud-based system will always have the most up-to-date information.

  • Efficient care delivery

When organisations digitise time-consuming, manual tasks, they make processes (and as a result care delivery) more efficient. Digital tools can also help with removing data silos, enhancing auditability and collaboration across services.

Optimising care location and making care delivery quicker helps to enhance service user experience and therefore social sustainability because staff are in a better position to provide personalised care anywhere, at any time.

  • Long-term transformation

Many industries are looking to digitally transform their organisation in order to be more financially sustainable for future demand. However, one of the main barriers for social care providers when it comes to implementing a new software solution is, understandably, cost. So, it’s important to understand the return on investment.

At its core, digital tools streamline processes, helping cut waste and unnecessary spend. Whether that is because teams are in a better position to work proactively so to not caught out by agency spend or penalties. Or they are able to keep processes such as payroll internal, rather than outsourcing to a third party.

Cloud-based software solutions are also scalable to organisational needs, so when the service starts to grow, the software can keep up with it. And because data will be kept within the cloud, there is no need for expensive on-site hardware, it is accessible by those who need it at any time and in any place and information is never lost.

The future outlook for sustainable social care

Sustainability throughout social care is a collective effort that requires all to prioritise the well-being of both the people receiving care and the planet we live on. By embracing digital care records, addressing current challenges, and focusing high quality care, the sector can work towards achieving environmental, financial, and social sustainability.

Care Cloud – the flexible care management software solution - helps you deliver personalised care no matter the size or type of your care organisation.

Functionalities from recruitment and training to mobile point-of-care access and business intelligence, Care Cloud offers vital capabilities that can help future-proof your care organisation.