Social workers promised reduced information burden

Social workers would be able to spend more time with clients under plans to improve data sharing with the NHS, set out in a 10-year information strategy today.

Social workers have been promised reduced administrative burdens and more client time under a 10-year plan to overhaul health and social care information issued today.

Practitioners would be expected to electronically record information as close as possible to the point of client contact, with a view to this being shared electronically with health colleagues, preventing users from having to submit information more than once and improving integration.

The Department of Health strategy also promised more transparency for service users, with councils expected, though not mandated, to provide them with electronic access to their care records.

The strategy said that many care services were reliant on paper-based records; while local authority records were typically electronic these were not easily sharable; and information on service users was entered multiple times and often of limited use to professionals because it was based on recording activity not outcomes.

The DH said the measures it was proposing would enable professionals to spend more time with clients by reducing the time spent recording or managing information and also improve the quality of the information practitioners received.

“Many professionals working in care and in health struggle with the information systems they need to use, perhaps because of lack of training and support, because these systems are not the most intuitive and user-friendly, because they seem bureaucratic and are not seen as an integral part of delivering excellent care, or because professional staff do not see the links between the data they record and the uses that data can be put to improve their work and the care that they provide,” it said.

Other key measures in the strategy include:-

  • Information collected would focus on the quality of people’s care and outcomes, not merely about activity or finance.
  • The publication of common information standards across health and social care; under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, all commissioners and providers should have regard to these standards.
  • More training for social care professionals in IT and managing information.
  • Management information for national data returns or to inform commissioning decisions would be derived directly from care records made by professionals, rather than have to be re-inputted into local authority systems by administrative staff.
  • Information from care records would be used to track care pathways across health and social care in local areas and ensure commissioning decisions were better informed.

The department also said it would work with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Health and Social Care Information Centre over the next year to find ways of reducing the administrative burden of collecting data with the aim of automating information collection as much as possible. Adass said it welcomed the “broad thrust” of the strategy.

But Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of the health and social care charity coalition National Voices, said the strategy lacked details. “We welcome this strategy as a strong vision document. What is less clear is how the vision will result in real change. We need to see concrete measures that give patients a stronger voice in decisions about their own care.”

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