The best is yet to come

The question is when are you too old to rock n roll? I don’t know about you but I intend to make the most of my senior years. I certainly can’t imagine wasting away in an institutional ‘care’ home. I’m aiming to be self-sufficient, living in my own ‘connected’ home, assisted by enabling technologies.

But what will that environment look like in 20 or 30 years’ time? This was one of the challenges facing 25 of the UK’s brightest minds selected to participate in a ‘Sandpit’ organised by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), a government funded organisation committed to accelerating economic growth in the UK by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.

I attended the five day event as one of 5 Mentors and Assessors and found the experience to be exhilarating, emotionally draining and ultimately a very rewarding roller-coaster of a ride. But before I elaborate, you may be wondering why the TSB is investing the better part of £2.5 million in tax payers’ hard earned money on a Sandpit addressing long term care. Well, there is a stark economic imperative.

According to a recent report from NHS England (The NHS belongs to the people: a call to action / July 2013) between 1990 and 2010 life expectancy in England increased by 4.2 years. During the same period on average a quarter of the population suffered with some form of long term health condition and they accounted for 50% of all GP appointments and 70% of days spent in a hospital bed. In parallel the NHS estimates that by 2030 the number of older people requiring care in the UK will have risen by 60%. All of this means that if we continue with the current model of care there could be a funding gap of around thirty billion pounds between 2013/14 and 2020/21, which will continue to grow and grow quickly if action isn’t taken.

Jackie Marshall-Cyrus, Lead Specialist on the TSB Assisted Living Innovation Platform, dreamed up our Sandpit, the first of a series of initiatives boldly flying TSB’s provocative banner, the ‘Long Term Care Revolution’.

Jackie explains why it’s the time to think different: “The challenge of turning around previously disenfranchised segments of the population to create a vibrant and empowered consumer group, along with their families and carers, requires radical thinking, risk taking and multidisciplinary approaches. Our research shows that three quarters of people want an alternative to a care home if they become dependent in older age, indicating the need for innovative thinking to revolutionise long-term care, including how we re-define ‘care’ so people are not defined and objectified by it, how it is delivered and what it should look like.”

A view reinforced by Sandpit Director David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes for the Technology Strategy Board, who believes that: “Technological innovation is primarily a creative process, driven by people who imagine a different way of doing things. Or as the poet Robert Browning put it – a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

Recruitment involved a series of roadshows. Then, following a stringent competitive process, 25 of the UK’s brightest academics, entrepreneurs and practitioners, representing many different fields of research and industry, were brought together to dream up innovative, risky, but potentially game changing ideas that challenge the institutional model for long term care and how we get there.

And that’s pretty much what we got; radical, challenging, creative, lateral thinking from a passionate group of individuals, genuinely committed to exploring a new vision for a better world. In the words of one participant “Participating in the Sandpit was a deeply emotional, depressing, inspiring experience. During the Sandpit you go through so many emotions but the first outcome is everyone wants the same thing, to find a solution.”

By the end of the week teams had formed and were putting in funding bids for short term research and prototype projects. The TSB are still going through due diligence so it’s too early to go into specific detail, but I can tell you the next phase will explore a number of bold, provocative and possibly even revolutionary themes which I am looking forward to seeing come to fruition.

Furthermore, many of the challenges and ideas we considered resonate across the palliative care spectrum, and are therefore of great value in the context of my work with Creative Skills For Life which is focused on providing young people living with long term, life threatening conditions with access to qualified tools that help them explore their creative potential as a catalyst to promote healing and personal development.

If you’d like to learn more about the Long Term Care Revolution or discuss getting involved with CSL, do drop me an email to info@creativeskillsforlife.com

When all is said and done, it’s a big ask I know, but I would like to think that our Sandpit will take us a few steps closer to a world where there is truth in the words of Robert Browning: “Grow old with me the best is yet to be”. And if you want to keep on rocking, more power to you!