Can start-ups solve the NHS’s chronic bed shortages?


Will Horner, Journalist

The NHS is in crisis, with bed shortages just one of its many issues. But could new technology help solve some of the problems?

Dominating UK headlines last week were reports that the NHS, struggling with a chronic bed shortage, was considering an Airbnb style system to let people across the country host post-surgery patients in their spare rooms.

The host would get paid (£50 a night, capped at £1000 a month), the patient would get a bed to recuperate in and the NHS would (temporarily) solve its overcrowding crisis.

But the news that CareHomes (the startup behind the scheme) and the NHS might be pairing up didn’t go down well with everyone and concerns were raised that it amounts to ‘social care on the cheap’ or the ‘Airbnbification’ (read: privatisation) of the NHS.

NHS bed shortage

However CareHomes isn’t the only company out there approaching the UKs care needs with a tech solutions. Seakr, a Berkshire and Surrey based service, which aims to match self-employed carers with care seekers in their area, describes itself as “a new model of home care.”

The company, which exhibited at TechDay in London on Friday, has been operating its service since 2016, but now they aim to develop it by creating two apps – one for the carer and one for the client.

How does it work?

Consider for example a client in Manchester who needs help caring for their elderly parent in Berkshire. The staff at Seakr meet the parent and together they select a candidate from their list of vetted carers in the local area based on personality and care needs.

With the app the carer can manage their care appointments, offering more independence, and the relative in Manchester can be notified when the carer arrives at and completes an appointment, offering peace of mind.

Ian Rajan, CEO at Seakr, said: “The care market today is broken because carers are underpaid and undervalued”. According to Rajan, Seakr is better for carers and the cared-for, by providing greater independence for carers and reliable, local support for the care seekers.

But Rajan is well aware that many haven’t taken kindly to start-ups entering the healthcare sector. He insists however that innovative services like Seakr can bring better results for all parties.

“We know that quality of care is significantly better when it’s in a home or familiar environment rather than a hospital ward,” he said.

“Obviously everyone agrees on more government funding [for the NHS] … but the feedback we are getting from is that our service produces better results.”

Seakr, which currently operates in Berkshire and Surrey, aims to cover London by the second quarter of 2018 and expand nationwide by the fourth quarter.

But if the NHS/Airbnb furore has proved anything it is that the biggest challenge in bringing tech to healthcare is people’s attachment to the NHS and the fear that start-ups are filling the gap that should be filled with government funding.

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