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Social workers: IT problematic but has great potential

07/11/16

old people signNHS Digital finds that while social workers see IT as a challenge they also see great potential in it to support their work

Social workers are now being asked to help shape the future of the use of both information and technology in their sector.

NHS Digital - the former Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which acts as the national information and technology provider for the entire health and care system - says it needs “expert input” from social care professionals to better support the next phase of its drive to offer digital help for the profession.

The expert input is needed to help address a number of significant issues the body says it’s identified off the back of recent major research into user needs in social work. The findings of the first phase of the NHS Digital probe into the impact of IT in social work was delivered at the National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) in Manchester last week.

These included a lack of interoperability between different organisations' systems, too much time being taken by social workers to input data, a need for more timely access to information, and what NHS Digital says is an “absolute requirement” to use technology as “an enabler”, rather than any sort of replacement, for face-to-face engagement.

NHS Digital says that, apart from these problems, social workers see many positive potential benefits for technology to help them on a day-to-day basis.

These include possible ways to share sector best practice examples on digital technology and innovation, developing and hosting communities of practice to facilitate peer support, online expert guidance around the Data Protection Act and better ensuring software and IT systems meet social workers' requirements.

A toolkit on digital technology, including on use of Skype, teleconferencing and audio technology, could also help social workers.

NHS Digital wants to look into these aspects as part of the second phase of research, which will report in spring 2017, promising to engage closely with both the findings and sector leaders to ensure social care professionals will be at the centre of future information and technology developments.

Commenting on the research and what it’s uncovering about the use of IT in UK social work as a profession, NHS Digital’s chief executive Andy Williams, said, "While we have many ambitions in supporting social care it is right to start with the basics, from identifying the minimum amount of information needed to effectively discharge somebody from hospital to social care, to developing simple ways to exchange information without adding to administration.

"But there is much more that we can and will do,” he added, noting that, “to achieve this with maximum positive effect for social care professionals and users,” NHS Digital needs to work to ensure that local authorities and social workers are “at the heart of an on-going conversation”, on how to best harness information and technology to support the sector.

Chief social worker for adults Lyn Romeo, who helped present the interim findings in Manchester, added that, "This is a welcome piece of research commissioned by NHS Digital into an area which affects the day to day practice of social workers, but which is often overlooked.

“With the social care system under so much pressure, it is important that information and technology free social workers up to use their skills at the front line.”

If you are a social care professional interested in providing input into the second phase of NHS Digital’s research, please contact enquiries@nhsdigital.nhs.uk, using the email title "social care research.”

The second phase of the study will further explore how social workers currently use IT in their role and what they think can be done better to support them in the future. It is being conducted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence with the help of market research organisation GfK.

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