More than a quarter of social workers are still cannot use technology to access the case information they need to do their jobs when outside the office.
Research commissioned by NHS Digital found that while 82% of adults and children’s social workers feel quite or very confident at using technology, the IT systems they use continue to frustrate them.
Almost all – 98% – reported having at least one difficulty when it came to sharing information digitally, the most common being the attitudes of other agencies (69%).
Lack of consistency
A lack of consistency in the recording of information and the levels of security and encryption were also common problems with 60% of the 786 social workers polled citing these issues.
When asked what one technology change would do the most to help them in their job, 16% said a better and more reliable IT system while 15% said being able to connect to their work systems at home or on the move.
Another 15% wanted systems that could talk to each other and so facilitate information-sharing while 11% said tablet devices or laptops to use in the field.
While 85% said they know enough about data protection to apply the law in their work, 67% said data protection policies obstructed their ability to share information that could benefit the quality of service to service users.
The research, which also involved interviews and focus groups with social workers, also revealed a lack of “uniform understanding” about what counts as secure among practitioners with different policies and practices across different organisations.
Mark Nicholas, chief social worker at NHS Digital said: “The findings indicate that although social workers are keen to take advantage of digital opportunities, there are significant barriers around digital skills, systems design and guidance on information sharing.
“They are trained to facilitate change through the quality of their interactions with people and they can’t do this if they receive no specific training on digital, or spend the majority of their time struggling with inadequate information and technology.
“I know social workers are concerned about bureaucracy and the amount of time spent inputting data. With the immediacy of digital technology comes the expectation that more can be done, when the systems in place can in fact create additional work.
“Social workers must have access to good information and technology to support them in meeting the needs of vulnerable people they work with. NHS Digital will be working with the profession to make this happen.”
The work being undertaken by NHS Digital includes working with the chief social workers to explore how digital capabilities can be incorporated into social worker training development and rolling out the Child Protection Information Sharing programme to help health and social care practitioners better identify children at risk of harm.
NHS Digital is also doing market research with social care system suppliers with the goal of ensuring systems are built around the needs of social workers.
Social Care Institute for Excellence and market researchers GfK carried out the research on NHS Digital’s behalf.