The information and technology challenges raised by integration of health and social care services are "huge" but "have not been given the priority they need", one analyst has told UKAuthority.com.
The Care Act 2014 is designed to integrate health and social care services to provide more patient treatment at home and in the community, avoiding emergency care in hospital or care homes.
However the move raises major ICT challenges for councils including adapting case record management systems to embrace the more personalised approach; providing better social services and health care information online; and sharing data securely with health bodies and the voluntary sector over the Public Services Network (PSN). Under the new law, systems to facilitate new reporting requirements must be in place by April 2015; and integration of health and social care must be in place by April 2016.
"It is a huge story - potentially the biggest change to affect local government in a long time", Martin Ferguson, director of policy and research at the Society of IT Management (Socitm), told UKAuthority.com this week.
"It is hitting an area where you have very significant and growing expenditure because of demographics, and declining budgets to deal with it. The technology implications of the changes have not been given the priority they need to make the changes happen."
Focusing on the need to share information securely with health and voluntary sector bodies on PSN, Ferguson said: "The challenge is two-fold - first, to get health integrated into the PSN, and then to shift focus away from purely compliance to one where we have got specific outcomes in mind, particularly around sharing personal information about care plans, care histories, care records.
"To do that securely with a myriad of heath organisations and ensuring the privacy of the data, will mean first, managing information governance, and second, to create an integrated care record, shared between agencies."
Integrating health and social care records is a complex task because the two fields have tended to record patient information in different ways, he said. "If you look at medical records, they tend to be very precise, whereas social care records tend to be more text based and subjective. That makes it quite difficult to come up with a standard that integrates the two."
Part of the solution will be to learn from the work of 14 health and social care 'integration pioneer' initiatives set up by the government last year to test ways of delivering integrated care, Ferguson said. One area of work at some of these sites included development of shared care record standards, open standards and common information sets, he said.
The pioneer areas are Barnsley; Cheshire; Cornwall and Isles of Scilly; Greenwich; Islington; Leeds; Kent; North West London; North Staffordshire; South Devon and Torbay; Southend; South Tyneside; Waltham Forest and East London and City; and Worcestershire. Topics being analysed across the projects include a multidisciplinary response to emergencies; joining up local health and social care services for older people with long-term conditions and families with complex needs; patient access to their health and care information online; and joined up care across mental health and GP services.
Socitm has been commissioned by the Department of Health to help address the ICT of the Care Act by hosting regional summits and workshops for all stakeholders over the next four months, Ferguson said. The events will include dissemination of learning from the pioneer projects.
Pictured: Socitm director of policy and research Martin Ferguson.
Socitm events: www.socitm.net/events
Health and social care integration pioneers: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/integration-pioneers-leading-the-way-for-health-and-care-reform--2