Reflecting on the year gone by

By David Lynes, CEO & Founder of Unique IQ

It’s that time of year when we reflect on the year gone by and make goals and wishes for the one to come.

2021 continued to be challenging as we adjust to the changing circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. And here at Unique IQ, we’ve been reflecting on our partners in the care sector, and how they have been evolving to cope with an increasingly difficult situation. This year there may have been some steps forward (on the surface at least) in funding and parity with the NHS, but the pressures of recruitment, staffing and finance are as present as ever.

I asked some of my senior team for their predictions for the care sector in 2022. Between us, a number of clear themes emerged.

Priority 1: carer recruitment and retention

We all identified carer recruitment and retention as the number 1 priority for the care sector in 2022. With the workforce crisis deepening, hit by the triple whammy of Brexit, COVID and now mandatory vaccination, Business Development Manager Chris offered attracting people from outside of the care sector as an important way of tackling the shrinking number of available carers, alongside the ongoing retention of staff.

To attract new faces into care, Jayne, our Head of Marketing, put forward the idea that care organisations will need to make use of modern marketing techniques for recruitment campaigns in 2022. One such example, Facebook advertising, is a quick and inexpensive way to place job adverts in front of people with relevant skills and interests. Taking that a step further, Jayne proposes utilising the data held within care management systems to build up profiles of typical carers, e.g. age, location, and interests. That (anonymised) information can then be fed into a tool like Facebook to identify ‘lookalike audiences’ – people who match the kind of characteristics an organisation’s carers typically hold – and serve them with highly targeted adverts on Facebook and Instagram. Jayne said: “this method is highly effective and used by all sorts of organisations to find new customers or to recruit people, there’s no reason why care organisations can’t take advantage of it too.”

Turning to the topic of retention, Operations Director, Cheryl, identified the need to better support people who work in social care, with mental health and wellbeing an important focus for 2022. Cheryl said: “recruitment and retention are now at a critical level in an industry already struggling. Carers are suffering burnout from the pandemic and staff are under increasing pressure to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. These care staff continue to put themselves at the forefront to protect our vulnerable at very low wages and in very challenging circumstances.”

Meanwhile Head of Technology, James, expects to see a widening use of sentiment analysis to understand carer wellbeing and engagement through 2022. James observed that while care management systems are starting to introduce a happiness score or sentiment ranking for clients (which is built up from visits over time) the next logical step was to apply that to caregivers. A simple “how are you feeling today” question could be added to a carer’s mobile app at the start of the day; pairing that with data on holidays, sickness or incidents, could identify the risk of burnout or spot declining staff satisfaction levels early on.

Priority 2: Living with COVID

For Rita, our QA Lead, learning to live with COVID was likely to be the biggest force to contend with next year, and technology would help that process. She said: “facing the complex reality we live in nowadays, we will find that in 2022 the use of technology to provide better care and support will increase even more than in 2021. More variants of COVID will be part of the new typical day to day, unfortunately, and with that, the care sector will need to think outside the box to fight and continue providing care to our loved ones with the quality they deserve.”

Cheryl (Operations Director) agreed, predicting that clinicians and care delivery organisations will have to continue to rapidly adopt virtual care models and technology, and the benefits it can provide clients where face-to-face visits or appointments are not possible. She warned of a necessary culture change however amongst practitioners, and an increase in confidence amongst care recipients.

As part of this wider move to a virtual care model, I’m anticipating the maturing of AI next year, which will make it easier for the technology to be adopted by care providers. I think will we continue to see extensive growth in sensor and home monitoring systems, which coupled with more sophisticated applications of AI, will start to reveal much deeper insights about care delivery and wellness at home.

Priority 3: Security and digital infrastructure

The recent critical cyber security vulnerability (CVE-2021-44228, also known as Log4Shell or LogJam) demonstrated how fragile our global technology infrastructure can be. The extent of this recent vulnerability has been quite startling, with major corporations struggling to react and mitigate against the risk. Thankfully, none of our systems at Unique IQ are affected, but it is a timely reminder to all to review cyber security arrangements and ensure threat detection systems are in place.

I think this worldwide event will lead to a tightening of cyber security during 2022, with the care sector taking more steps to improve its cyber security, placing greater expectations on technology providers and users alike.

Priority 4: New structures for social care

Our final prediction for 2022 is a significant reshaping of the care sector.

For Business Development Manager, Chris, the boom in funding for health tech and care tech projects means we’re likely to see larger technology and/or investment companies get involved in the UK care sector, such as we’ve started to see this year with Honor and Home Instead. Chris expects we’ll see more tech-enabled care start-ups next year, along with more acquisitions of care providers that are struggling with efficiencies and process. “The most innovative and multi-service companies will be the ones that will do well in 2022,” says Chris.

Alongside this, Chris anticipates a further push towards keeping people out of NHS/residential care due to the cost differences, as well as demand from the general population. He expects to see more extra care, supported living and enabling services, with a more fluid transition between care settings, powered by technology.

In a similar vein, Cheryl is predicting more specialist training and support for both domiciliary and residential care staff to be able to offer more clinical care such as medication administration/dementia care, backed by the Workforce Development Fund. This will mean that more people will be able to leave hospital and continue to receive the right level of care in their own home or residential setting.

Finally, Cheryl highlighted the need for ‘connected care’ – giving people the support they need, joined up across local services such as councils and social workers, the NHS, and other partners. As Cheryl explains: “there is an urgent need to remove the existing divisions between hospitals and local GPS, involving physical and mental health, and between NHS and council services. In the past, these divisions have meant that too many people experienced disjointed care and no ‘joined up thinking’ when preparing the care package for an individual both when in hospital and/or discharged to their own home. This would absolutely need focussed funding on systems to support this infrastructure.”

Our predictions for the care sector in 2022

  • Carer recruitment and retention will be the number 1 priority
  • Living with COVID will be a major ongoing force
  • Greater attention will be placed on cyber security and network infrastructure
  • Further new structures and care models will emerge for social care

Would you agree with them?

For me, I think the long-term impact of the ongoing pandemic is the thing which will really shape 2022. The situation is making recruitment harder, testing the morale and mental health of caregivers and having profound effects on the resources needed to deal with the disruption – whether that’s rescheduling visits, communicating with staff and clients or ensuring care packages are covered.

It’s no easy task to work in care right now; we’ve admired your resilience this year and can see how much you’ve done to adapt and evolve. Know that we’re here to support you in the best way that we can. Whether that’s by making your lives a little bit easier with technology, or by being a listening ear at the end of the phone, you can count on our support. From all of us at Unique IQ, we wish you a Merry Christmas and the very best for the new year.

Want to read more articles from David? Head over to our thought leadership hub.