Government heeds call for greater urgency on data-sharing systems

Information management in social care will have more priority in the New Year amid concerns about its integration with developments in children’s services and the NHS.

Local authorities will face audits in early 2006 of their progress in implementing the electronic social care record (ESCR) and electronically delivering the single assessment process for older people with NHS partners.

The moves follow calls from social care leaders for the government to give the issue greater priority.

David Johnstone, who leads on information management for the Association of Directors of Social Services, said guidance on the ESCR, last issued in January 2004, was out of date because it failed to reflect a growing emphasis on information sharing between agencies.

Johnstone, who co-chairs the ESCR implementation board, which will lead the audit, said: “The Department of Health needs to give a stronger lead on the ESCR.”

The audit could lead to a revised target to implement the ESCR, currently October 2006, to ensure integration with the NHS’s electronic patient record, the integrated children’s system, the common assessment framework and information sharing indexes.

A key problem is that each project is led by a different agency: the DH for the ESCR, the Department for Education and Skills for the children’s systems, and Connecting for Health for the NHS records and the single assessment process. Meanwhile, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has responsibility for e-government across councils.

But Johnstone said the ESCR implementation board was helping to forge a cross-government approach.

He said the single assessment process for older people’s needs could be the bridge between NHS and social care records.

Johnstone said the single assessment process had had a low priority with Connecting for Health, but this was changing because of staff pressure. The agency now supported delivering an electronic single assessment process before its 2008 target.

Last month, the agency’s national board backed an audit of progress to determine the feasibility of a shorter timescale, and Johnstone added that it was currently seeking funding to carry it out.

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