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Survey says social workers hit digital tech obstacles


NHS Digital identifies issues that are preventing social care staff from sharing information effectively

Almost all social workers are running into at least one difficulty in sharing information digitally, according to research commissioned by NHS Digital.

The organisation, which provides digital support to the health and social care sectors in England, said 98% of the 786 social workers completing an online survey said they had experienced problems, providing a significant barrier to the integration of care.

It has prepared a report on the issue, Social Workers and Information Technology, based on the research by the Care Institute for Excellence and market research firm GfK.

It says the main difficulties in information sharing are the attitudes of other agencies (cited by 69%), and a lack of consistency in the methods of recording information and levels of security and encryption (60%).

Around half mentioned issues related to systems not being user-friendly or unreliable, and although 72% thought it was easy to share information with their local authority, fewer than half said the same for other organisations.

Data protection was also cited as an issue by 62%, although more positively, 85% said they knew enough about it to apply the law correctly.

Among the other problems identified were that 26% of the interviewees could only access databases in their offices, and 33% could only get into government secure email at their desks.

Positive attitude

Despite this, the general attitude towards the impact of digital technology was positive, with 92% agreeing it supported flexible working, 75% approving of webinars and 68% saying it could provide access for clients to technology. The only area in which less than half said there was a positive impact was around the use of social media (44%).

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 that 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 the vulnerable people they work with. NHS Digital will be working with the profession to make this happen."

Image by LaurMG (cropped), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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