Several measures are needed to strengthen the co-ordination of health and social care, writes Andrew Puddephatt, director UK public sector at Nutanix
The integration of health and social care has crept up the political agenda in recent years, with a recognition that digital technology and data will play key roles in making it a reality.
There has been significant progress, notably with the deployment of shared care records in some areas, but much more needs to be done, as became apparent at a recent round table – staged by UKAuthority and Nutanix – of digital leaders from both sectors.
Early priorities in the application of digital and data involve getting the basics right in aspects such as cyber security, interoperability of systems and ensuring the in-house skills are in place to support them; and focusing on a handful of initiatives that would make a big difference.
The latter could include: an integrated data solution based on shared care records and population health management platforms; an integrated citizen portal, supported by a functional digital identity, that would save people from using numerous apps and web services to access care; ensuring high standards in cyber security all round; providing an online ‘front door’ to relevant services and information for care teams; and levelling up the digital infrastructure nationwide.
There is also a need for an environment in which suppliers will be encouraged to develop new solutions to raise the quality of care. This requires a clear articulation of people’s needs to help them understand what is likely to make a difference on the frontline and, in England, integrated care systems are likely to play a key role in these, in part by developing a role as intelligent clients for the procurement of digital systems, as they will have the holistic view of what is needed across the sectors.
Interoperability of data systems is a key issue in integrating care, and it has become part of the conventional wisdom that this has to be reinforced by common data standards. While healthcare has had its own internationally recognised framework for several years in the form of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR), the situation for social care has traditionally been fragmented and the problems in aligning the data systems of the two sides has been a long running hindrance to integration.
There has been a sense of frustration with the progress on this issue, but hopefully the Department for Health and Social Care’s recent publication of a data strategy, will make a positive difference for England.
One element of this is in the indication that it will amend the Control of Patient Information (COPI) regulations for the long term. These had been relaxed temporarily to help health and social care agencies co-ordinate their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, and while they were terminated at the end of March the new data strategy has indicated they will be amended “to facilitate timely and proportionate sharing of data”.
The movement will also require a cultural change in which professionals in both sectors will be open to more data sharing, and governance structures that emphasise the importance of working with other organisations.
There is a strong sense of increasing momentum, especially with the publication of the data strategy for England and plans for a digital strategy, but also that all parties involved need to maintain the focus, with NHS bodies, local authorities and technology suppliers maintaining a strong dialogue to develop the right tools and systems.
Download the briefing note from the round table below: