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Using technology to address loneliness and help people access council services more easily

Making sure that we’re able to receive the care we need for ourselves and for our loved ones is a priority for everyone. Accessing NHS services is relatively simple. In contrast, working out what care is available, what you’re eligible for, and how to get it can be a huge challenge for families and individuals. Often, they have to do this at an already difficult time in their lives.

We’re taking a look at the opportunities tech has to help modernise health and social care to make access much smoother for us all. We will share with you some stories about how different local authorities, together with their health and third-sector partners are looking to technology to make this all a little easier.

Meeting demand and improving accessibility

Older female using search sitting at her desk working on her Acer Swift 5.

Managing demand and improving people’s access to services are two objectives which don’t always pull in the same direction. Often, there is tension between these priorities.

On the one hand, the financial situation for many authorities leaves them needing to make heartbreaking trade-offs between who receives care and who doesn’t, as the bar to qualify for council funded services becomes ever higher.

On the other hand there is a desire to help people (whether they are supported by their council or not) to find the help they need as easily as possible. Preferably this could be done without too much assistance from their local authority.

Whilst we appreciate that a digital ‘front door’ is not for everyone, there are some great examples beginning to emerge. These all make it much easier for us and our families and friends to find the help we need, without grappling through the depths of a website.

What if we could choose our own care?

In our first blog, we mentioned the work being conducted by The Tribe Project which is redefining the way people find and choose the care that they need. Initially, this work is in some rural parts of the country as a result of ‘care blackspots’.

The Tribe platform puts the individual and their family in the driving seat. It allows them to select the help they need from a range of relevantly qualified local people and volunteers. Importantly, this could be a range of different services, not necessarily the kind of things we’d traditionally think of as care, but things which we as individuals identify we need help with to be happier and healthier.

Tribe works both for people whose care is funded by the authority but also appeals to people who can fund it themselves. No matter who is paying, we all want a say in what is most important to us, who helps us, and when they do.

Future plans for the platform include smarter ways to deal with the financial transactions surrounding care. These would be underpinned by blockchain. This could also improve the financial and compliance positions of local authorities as they seek to devolve more and more responsibility to individuals and their families.

Tribe also works for carers and volunteers who can receive training via the platform, adapting their working patterns to their own needs.

The introduction of digital assistants

Stuart Pixley, a man who uses a wheelchair, smiles while holding a laptop on his lap outside.Authorities are really starting to get to grips with the opportunities that digital assistants present. They help find salient information about what we need and also support people through the often complex processes involved in accessing help.

Work is being done by East Sussex County Council and ICS.AI to make it easier for people to sort out their eligibility for Blue Badges – and to get hold of them. They are developing an assistant to help people find the right information from both the Council’s website and from the Government’s. It will be able to track the progress of an existing application, upload missing documentation, and check for updates.  This will make it easier for people (and their carers) to sort out the help they need. It also means that staff will have more time to support people via other routes.

Elsewhere, digital assistants are being actively explored to help people find what they need and more importantly perhaps, things which they enjoy doing. Recognising the devastating impact which loneliness can have on our health, Suffolk Council and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust are providing a digital assistant to help people in their area to access services, and stay up to date with what’s going on.

Simply by chatting to an assistant, people in the area can find out about events in their neighbourhood. It also tells them how to get there and gives public transport timetables. This service is available on any device – so no one is left out. It’s early days, but the hope is that people’s mental and physical health will be improved by connecting them more effectively to help. It also aims to reduce strain on local health and care services because users can access what they need when they need it.

Bringing people together

Meanwhile Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Surrey Councils are using a digital platform to connect people who feel lonely with others who can give them a hand, or with others who might be in the same boat.

The Ami platform empowers people to find help when they need it, and in so doing fosters a sense of community. It recruits volunteers who want to help lonely and socially isolated people do their shopping, get to appointments, or just have a chat over a cup of tea.

In the future, Ami will enable volunteers to connect with each other and receive reminders of local, one-off opportunities as they arise.

These simple tools help empower people to combat isolation and loneliness, while making it easier for volunteers to find those requesting help.

Keep value at the heart of digital projects

Sometimes digital projects can feel overwhelmingly large. There can also be concerns from our citizens or customers that their focus is all around reducing costs. However, when delivered with service improvement and people’s needs at the heart, these things are not mutually exclusive.

Successful digital projects are the ones that leverage technology and tools to improve services while keeping people needs, business goals, and values at heart.

Find out more

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About the authors

Helena Zaum headshotHelena is Microsoft UK’s Local and Regional Government Industry Lead. She is passionate about the positive impact which technology, sensitively applied, can have on communities and cities of the future. Helena’s remit at Microsoft involves looking at how technology can help transform public services, particularly integrated health and social care, and leading on Microsoft’s smart cities programme in the UK.



Head shot of Nicola Dillon, a smiling woman with short blonde hair and a fringe.

As Local Regional Government Client Director at Microsoft, Nicola feels very proud and extremely lucky to be working across the South West region with some of the most amazing Authorities and people in the sector. Whilst it is challenging, frustrating, and rewarding in equal measure, her aim is to support the councils improve how they deliver key services to us all.