Information for Social Care: A framework for improving quality in social care through better use of information and information technology
A Summary of the Consultation Draft (Chapters 1-4)

There are now increasing pressures and demands for developing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Social Care. It is seen as offering a significant benefits in creating portals of accessible information for the public, giving operating advantages for service users and their carers, in providing co-ordinating information that can be accessed across Social Services, in further co-ordinating and planning information with other local authority departments, in working in overlapping areas with the National Health Service (primary and secondary care), giving working operations with voluntary bodies and independent agencies, raising the quality of information and best practice through working with universities and incorporating their research, and in assisting the management and direction of activities according to policies. Furthermore, the project for e-government is a top-down demand for creating a new information-rich social care operation consistent with all other government operations. Government demands include modernisation in general, citizens' access, efficiency and competitiveness, tackling social exclusion, democratic renewal and contributing to education (where social care has a monitoring process).

The document argues that the citizen needs to know how to get (usually introductory) information and quickly. This may mean 24 hour access by ICT or the use of one-stop shops. Consumerism and court cases mean information must be explicit and accurate. The service user needs to run his or her life better (using email, web, telephone). The social worker can use ICT to work better. The manager needs to use IT to save time and get better monitoring and planning information. Directors can see how work flows and set better targets. Local authorities have their political objectives, but also planning objectives which need information. The link with universities involves more best practice research. There is also the crucial need for auditing and monitoring.

The document points out that this requires ICT systems and methods with the flexibility to cope and tailoring its functions to the various ICT users. This means planning and project management that has a Steering Board and accountability according to clearly laid structured plans of installing and updating the systems. The planning and monitoring checks up on quality assurance and efficiency, and minimal disruption to existing systems. Planning is for software, hardware, training, instant support, and feedback. It implements Internet access for the public, email for workflow, ICT at every work desk, using mobile computers, looking for low maintenance, and employs risk assessment to maintain records and workflow in the event of power failure and data storage failures. It means infrastructure planning and operating appropriate databases, text operations (email, word processing, web page writing) and document image processing. The Electronic Social Care Record could be a core basis for information, perhaps with a philosophy of being service-user owned and being comprehensive in scope, the basis for all other operating social care information.

In order to achieve this there needs to be management that produces a culture of welcoming rather than resisting increased use of information technology. Staff must learn to interact more with other staff, and not mentally reside within their departments alone. A culture of raising the quality of information is also important so that systems work at their best.

A buzz word is interoperability, where information is so held that it is available across different groups, bodies and authorities in appropriate levels of required access for their purposes. For example, there is the overlap between certain health services and social care like mental health which requires a high and ready level of information exchange. Another example is how information on crime and disorder has varied uses for social services, politicians and researchers. A major demand is continuity of information across the various different health, social services and independent and charitable bodies. Individuals may require access in secure conditions to personal records.

The paper is a framework and is not specific in a how-to-do and what-to-do sense. It points out the various pressures for change, what are called "drivers" for change, such as business drivers (efficiency, operating methods), the different demands of information users, and the limitations and potential in general. It shows how walls are coming down when information is fluid and based on ICT. It gives pointers for more in depth information elsewhere. However, implementation requires further specific planning decisions to be taken.

Presented at interview


Adrian Worsfold