How mechanisation can ease the workload on caregivers

Like many other countries around the world, the UK is home to an increasing percentage of older people. In 2019, around 20% of the UK population was made up of over 65s. This figure is rising, and by 2030, it’s expected that 25% (in other words, one in four) of us will be 65 years old and over.

And because the number of working-age people living in the UK isn’t growing as quickly as the number of older people, there is a real possibility that we simply won’t have enough carers in the workforce to meet the increased demand.

Old age dependency ratio by counties and unitary authorities in England, 2016

Scary stuff. But as we all know, this isn’t a problem solely for the future. There is already a huge strain on the social care sector. Skills for Care estimates that 7.3% of roles in adult social care were vacant in 2019/20. That’s equivalent to 112,000 vacancies at any one time.  And as we all know, the “jab or job” deadline for carers to receive two Covid vaccinations is now upon us, creating an even larger hole in the workforce.

But it’s not simply that there aren’t enough hands on deck, so to speak. Our fantastic carers are also required to complete ever more challenging tasks, as more people requiring social care are presenting with co-morbidities and complex needs. And so, it’s no wonder that levels of staff sickness are high – with many periods of sickness being down to musculoskeletal problems. In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive, heath and care is one of the top four industries with the most reported incidents of musculoskeletal disorders.

So, what can be done about it?

There’s no silver bullet, that’s for sure. And while the Westminster engine muses on how we can make social care a more attractive career for our young people, the sector must turn to the care products industry for solutions.

“Longer-term, [technology] is the only way we’re going to bridge the gap between finite resources and the growing demand of an ageing population”

Matt Hancock in foreword to Embracing technology in health and social care from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, April 2019

So, how can social care bosses stretch their limited human resources further, protect their workers from injury and retain the dignity of their clients?

The good new is that there are two different kinds of equipment solutions that tick all of these boxes. Let’s explore them, and discuss the pros and cons of each.

Automated versus mechanical care solutions

The first is automated solutions. Automated solutions are defined as products that are entirely “hands-off”. Based on pre-programming or artificial intelligence, these solutions require no human contact at the point that a care or everyday task is performed.

Whereas mechanical solutions are utilised by human operators and are designed to make everyday household and care tasks more efficient. For example, the VENDLET patient turning systems are mechanical turning devices that are controlled by carers to turn patients in bed. The mechanisation means that no physical effort is required by the carer, and it only takes a single person to complete the task.

The role of automation in social care

Automated devices, or robots, are being developed to provide general help in domestic environments, performing daily household tasks such as vacuuming, but they are also being developed to undertake the physical aspects of care, including help with personal mobility, eating and drinking, dressing, and toileting.

And while the idea of filling gaps in the workforce with automated solutions may be attractive, there are significant downsides.

As we know, social care environments are often unpredictable, and require a high-level of problem-solving and emotional intelligence. For example, a robot would struggle to bathe a client if a pre-paid meter had run out of credit, and therefore there was no hot water. Whereas a human carer would be able to solve that problem.

Likewise, a carer would be able to put a client’s socks on slightly differently if that person has developed pain in their feet during the night. But would a robot? In fact, a 2016 report by digital transformation specialists, McKinsey Digital states that “social care was rated as one of the least automatable jobs”.

The role of mechanisation in social care

Mechanisation could be viewed as the middle-ground between human-only resource and automated devices. Mechanised devices still require humans to control the tasks, but make the tasks in question more efficient by reducing the number of carers required to complete the tasks. They can also help minimise or completely eradicate the risk of injury by taking the physical strain out of tasks.

Here at Felgains, we believe that no technology will ever be able to rival the compassion, emotional intelligence and problem-solving capabilities of the human brain. And nor should it aspire to. Aside from the practical limitations, we often muse how we would like to be treated when we come to be at our most vulnerable. And the consensus is that we would never want to be deprived of human interaction. The recent events during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns have certainly cemented that feeling.

Because of this, we believe the future of social care lies in mechanisation. This combination of specialist technology and unique human interaction is the perfect blend of efficiency and safety with the compassion and companionship that all humans require for their mental health and wellbeing.

Single-handed care solutions: The VENDLET Patient Turning Systems

One such example of a mechanised solution helping to improve efficiency and safety are the VENDLET Patient Turning Systems. The VENDLET systems help caregivers carry out in-bed moving and handling tasks for those with limited mobility. At the touch of a button, the VENDLET allows just one caregiver to reposition a client in bed – with minimal manual handling effort. This reduces carer injuries caused by reach and stretch and other poor posture related to manual handling, therefore minimising the risk of injury and sickness absence.

The VENDLET can be used for all handling tasks in bed, including repositioning for comfort and personal care tasks. And because it empowers just a single carer to complete these tasks, it frees up colleagues to attend to other tasks, helping bosses to stretch their human resource further.

This less hands-on approach also affords greater dignity for clients as well as carers.

Where there are double-up care packages, these can often be reduced to just a single carer. And as we all know, the current and growing shortage of carers means that mechanisation like this will not take any carers jobs away. It will merely allow care organisations to better cover the work required, rather than being constantly overworked and understaffed.

Overcoming the obstacles

So, in conclusion, even in the face of mounting obstacles, specialist mechanised equipment such as the VENDLET Patient Turning Systems can:

  • help meet the growing demand for care by distributing our remaining human workforce more efficiently
  • provide long-term cost-saving solutions
  • reduce work-related sickness absence
  • boost client well-being by boosting privacy and dignity, and fostering more personal one-to-one relationships with fewer carers

Learn more about Felgains and browse their range of specialist care products.