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Where has the human element gone?

22 October 2018

In the past week we have seen the Government launch of two new strategies : one on loneliness and the other on digital data and technology in health and care.

We know loneliness is very different to being alone. Social connections as we know are very personal. Enabling the stigma of loneliness to be talked about and addressed is a government ambition.

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age. Meaningful relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing and take us beyond transactional conversations to meaningful interactions even if they are momentary. Being connected and staying connected has changed significantly over the years.

Many people go for days without seeing their neighbours or their family. There is an increasing reliance upon technology for our communications, however whilst it enables and speeds up communication, the unintended consequence can mean it diminishes human contact.

The acknowledgement in the Loneliness Strategy states how important new ways of connecting and communicating are:

“Of course, loneliness isn’t new, but the way our society works is changing rapidly. This brings great opportunities – including new ways of connecting and communicating with others. But it also means it’s now possible to spend a day working, shopping, travelling, interacting with business and with public services, without speaking to another human being. And for some people that can be repeated day after day. So as we continue to make the most of new technologies, ways of working and delivering services, we need to plan for connection and design in moments of human contact.”

The Loneliness Strategy has been published to complement the wider ambitions of the Civil Society Strategy (click here to read the strategy), however, I would have expected to see a more cohesive approach between the published strategies (ever the optimist!).

With a new report from Abbeyfield Society highlighting the benefits of volunteering for older people, and a recent article calling for more volunteers from ethnic backgrounds to tackle loneliness, in order to support and enable the physical human relational connections people need to thrive, changes need to occur within organisations, both within the infrastructure and within our culture.

Policy and strategic intent need to move beyond words into action.

The human element should not be overlooked in the Digital Data and Technology strategy. At its heart there are four guiding principles:

  • user need
  • privacy and security
  • interoperability and openness
  • inclusion

And we need to draw on emerging thinking on designing technology safely, ethically and effectively for the values and interests of civil society.

Ask what the user need is

Every service must be designed around user needs, whether the needs of the public, clinicians or other staff.

Services designed around users and their needs:

  • are more likely to be used
  • help more people get the right outcome for them – and so achieve their intent
  • cost less to operate by reducing time and money spent on resolving problems

Technology clearly has a large part of play it has become an integral part of the way we live our lives.

We also know it does not and cannot replace the need for human relationships and connectivity.

The lack of read across between the two publications is significant.

One can enable the other and free up more time within the health and care context for meaningful interaction and relationships.

Interoperability of technology is a must and will achieve greater efficiencies in the long term but this should not be at the expense of people having meaningful human contact on their terms and with the people they choose to connect with.

The systems we all have to use should enable, not disable this intent. 

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