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by Dr Susan Shenkin, University of Edinburgh
30 March 2021
Associate feature: The vast potential for Scotland’s care home sector that lies in data-led innovation


Associate feature: The vast potential for Scotland’s care home sector that lies in data-led innovation

For me, data-led innovation means being able to draw on accurate data to identify, assess and meet the unique and complex needs of care home residents.

The ongoing pandemic has illustrated just how much of an invaluable asset data is in the care home sector.

Residents and staff in care homes have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with high rates of infection, illness and death, not to mention the knock-on impact of restrictions on contact with family and friends.

We have clearly seen the role of data in highlighting the impact which COVID has had on this sector, as well as in the provision of essential intelligence to help target the response from health and social care services.

There is now a golden opportunity to build on this positive data-enabled work to do so much more to improve the lives of people living, and dying, with frailty, multimorbidity and dementia, all key government priorities.

What if, for example, data could have offered a holistic digital picture of a resident’s health, wellbeing and care needs during the pandemic and was used for risk stratification and decision support?

With the recent launch of a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition –in which up to £200,000 is available to undertake a Care Home Data Platform Innovation Foundation Challenge – we are asking this very question.

Funding is being provided by the Chief Scientific Office (CSO) of Scottish Government, and The Data Lab Innovation Centre.

The project is managed through Health Innovation South East Scotland (HISES) – an innovation test bed set up by the CSO – and supported by the Scotland Can Do Innovation Funding Support Team. The Research Champion for this challenge is Lucy Johnston from Napier University.

Through the provision of a comprehensive digital picture of a resident in real time, staff could, for example, be supported to identify a change in a resident’s condition, and provide the best person-centred care, including consideration of accessing GPs, district nurses, or hospital admission.

We plan to build on this first Care Home Innovation Challenge to deliver a pipeline of scalable and reliable data-driven innovation solutions that will collectively lead to better quality of life outcomes for care home residents across Scotland.

We are working to form innovation collaborations with Health and Social Care Partnerships, academics, clinicians, care home networks and industry partners. A key part of this is ENRICH (Scotland) (Enabling Research in Care Homes). The network brings together care home staff, residents and researchers to facilitate the design and delivery of research, to improve the quality of life, treatments and care for all residents, and will be an essential pillar of future strong partnership frameworks.

There is a need to better understand ethical approval and data governance for care home research in Scotland, in particular, for the use of individual level data about social care - and particularly care homes, which, despite their regulatory frameworks, are first and foremost people’s homes.

There is an urgent need for improved data infrastructure also to support the delivery of trials in Scotland such as PROTECT-CH ( which aims to reduce the risk of residents catching COVID-19, and could provide a platform to address other research questions in future.

We need a stronger infrastructure that operationalises data-led innovation in care homes, better communication across health and social care, and accurate understanding of how data is collected, managed and used.

For the residents and staff of Scotland’s care homes to benefit from data-driven innovation, innovators and researchers need to work closely with them, clinical experts in health and social care, and policy makers, to co-create seamless, unobtrusive data-led innovations that ensure everyone can benefit and receive the highest quality person-centred care when they need it.

Dr Susan Shenkin is the Clinical Innovation Challenge lead, Department of Geriatric Medicine, University of Edinburgh.

This article was sponsored by Health and Social Care Innovation

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