The first web-based shared professional network for health and social care managers across a region has been launched in the West Midlands to help develop integrated health and social care services.
The Health and Social Care West Midlands site was born out of the 'Making it work' project, a cross-sector activity started in the region in March 2013 alongside the transfer of public health responsibilities to local government. It is run by Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands (IEWM), a body funded by local authorities to improve working practices and supported by the region's share of the government's £3.8bn national Better Care Fund to smooth integration of health and social care.
The site has four main features: a contact finder to help users identify and contact health and social care professionals in all organisations across the region; a shared resources database of relevant documents; data visualisation tools to help users analyse socio-economic and health data; and a 'communities' section with public and private groups to enable discussion on specific topics.
"The idea is not to focus on technical solutions, but on how do we put names to faces, how do we know who is doing a similar thing to us just down the road so we don't duplicate, how do we get people in health and social care in the West Midlands to get to know each other better?" Pete Jackson, adult social care lead at IEWM told UKAuthority.com.
"As we were developing the site, we found people didn't know each other across all the areas they covered - people were bordering up against each other while not necessarily knowing who is on the other side", Jackson said. "But health and care issues have permeable boundaries - a lot of these issues are not going to be solved on geographical location." The regional site was "a chance of doing something quite natural, to develop human relationships", he said.
IEWM had looked at the option of using their own sub-group or groups on the Knowledge Hub, the national online professional network for the public sector run by the Local Government Association, but had decided it would be more effective to build a specialised regional network from scratch, Jackson said.
"We looked at Knowledge Hub, but we wanted to go across the system, not just local government and NHS but the whole health and social care system, and we thought to do something like that on a national scale would be difficult to oversee and manage."
His team was starting off by promoting the network to more senior staff such as directors of social care, directors of public health and chief operating officers at CCGs.
"We're starting it off pitching it at leaders, so the numbers are manageable", Jackson said. "We will try and build the credibility of the system with those people, then start to roll it out a bit further. It does take work to get people to shift onto a platform like this, so we think it is best to start with people who are already personally connected. From the feedback we've had so far, people think it's a good idea."
Overall, like any online network, the success of the new site will depend on how active people are in using it, said Vicky Sargent, owner of digital agency Boilerhouse which built the website for IEWM.
"The site will work if people use it - the key is active facilitation of the groups, and promotion of the site", Sargent said. However, for some health and social care and professionals, this would be a challenge, she said.
"People in social care are among the least web-friendly in local government and the NHS are also new to the idea of sharing things and doing things in public.
"When I went and showed the user-friendly presentation of outcomes data to social care managers before Christmas, their first reaction was that 'it's scary that our data is out there': many had not realised it was publicly available. But another was 'that's great, now we can tell people why it is so important that we get data right'."
Pictured: The West Midlands Health and Social Care home page.
West Midlands Health and Social Care: www.hscwm.org.uk