Joe has written on architecture for Design Week, travel for the Sunday Times and social policy for i-D The Information Daily; presented programmes on travel and social policy for Radio 4 and hosts the podcast Reality Bites - local government unpicked.


Matching the care to the need, the carer to the cared for, and the available technology to the provision of care.

The need for new ways of delivering social care is greater than it has ever been. Cera looks to other sectors, travel and financial services for example, for ways to benefit from available technology.

“We set up Cera because we saw that there was a real opportunity to harness technology in the provision of care, in ways that technology had already been harnessed across other sectors.” 

I spoke to Dr Ben Maruthappu, co-founder and President of Cera, in early February. His reasoning on what technology can do for the provision of social care is not uncommon among the new generation of health and social care providers. Nor is his unashamed enthusiasm for technology as a transformative business mechanism.

However his understanding and the clarity of his vision on what technology can actually achieve for the provision of social care in the near term is not so common.

In the week between our interview and my starting to write this piece the National Audit Office (NAO) reported on the savings made in the first year of the moves to integrate some aspects of health and social care at a local level. Technology of course has been fingered as the magic bullet that will allow the integrated services to provide more for less. A candid summary of the NAO report might be there have been no savings and quite possibly never will be.

Ben Maruthappu has practiced medicine and worked with Simon Stevens at NHS England. He advised on NHS England’s innovation, technology and prevention portfolio, co-founded the NHS Innovation Accelerator and the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. But he is not, it is clear, a creature of the health or care sectors. He is an innovator and his vision is pragmatic and driven by a keen business intelligence as we should expect from “the first person from British healthcare to be included in Forbes’ 30 under 30” listing.

Maruthappu has a business mission to add value to the service delivery by removing friction from the process, for friction causes delay, reduces service quality and costs money. He also understands that introducing the right technology in the right way and in a timely manner adds value both for the end user and the purse holder whether private or local government.

“It is clear that care is in the challenged position it is in precisely because it is not as efficient and cost effective as it could be, and there are plenty of tried and tested models for how technology has delivered efficiencies, cost effectiveness and smoother service in other sectors; travel, financial services, food for example,” says Maruthappu.

“Given some of the pressures on the NHS and the pressures on social care, the need for a new model of working is greater than it has been, and given where technology has got to, the time is right to be exploring this sort of model.” He adds.

Cera of course has the advantage of having no legacy systems to accommodate. Their business model has the advantage of simplicity, use technology to optimise logistics so the right carers are in the right place at the right time, so that carers can have more flexible working patterns, so that all the administration including purchasing and payments are streamlined, and the company can afford to take smaller margins thus paying higher rates to the carers so attracting better carers who deliver a better quality of care.

The technology also allows a speed of response and the instant mobile access to records and communication, transparency and connectedness to the other care providing agencies and individuals, which in turn allows more of the care to happen at home and for longer.

“We don’t rely on any particular care delivery devices”, says Marruthappu, “that’s not where the value added in our service comes from. All our care is delivered by people, the value added comes from matching clients to carers, matching the service to the need, and streamlining the delivery. This impacts first on the carers then on the clients.”

“Our starting point was thinking how can we deliver, where appropriate, the right care to people in their own homes, which has all the advantages we know about including being more comfortable and cheaper than the care-home option.

Maruthappu is adamant that under the Cera model the cared for will get the same quality of care whether paying for it out of their own funds or getting it delivered through a local council contract.

“We are looking to supply a uniform quality of care, regardless of how it is being paid for” he says, “from the outset we said no to a two-tier model”.

“We want families to be able to see the level of support and involvement that the technology offers, and the cared-for themselves to see how technology is enabling the quality of their care. However.” he continues, and a note of pride creeps into his voice, “our platform will also tell a council how much care is and has been delivered, what the quality and satisfaction levels are providing a greater insight into what’s going on.

Our conversation took place before the NAO report came out and yet looking at my notes I see that Maruthappu had answered one question before I put it.

“There is, at the moment, a conversation, a dialogue about how social care will be funded and on how integration is going to work. At the moment the health and care funding pots in most parts of this country have yet to be integrated. There needs to be a decision at the national level on how to move forward on all this.”

It would be surprising if the strategists at Cera were not thinking about what might happen in terms of funding, home delivery, integration and so on, if and when the change does come along.

“Our model is digitally based,” says Maruthappu, “and we are designed to be flexible, innovative and quick to respond in our daily operations and at a strategic level.. So when there is a change in the health and social care system I believe we will be able to adapt to it quickly”.  

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