4 Min reads
At a time when the UK’s social care system is facing unprecedented capacity challenges, chronic underfunding and severe staffing shortages, what can digital really offer? Can it provide genuine value, and resolve some of the deep-rooted issues or is it merely diverting attention away from the real problems?
In July 2022, the NHS Confederation stated that the social care system was on a cliff edge and urged the government to do more to close the gulf between demand and capacity. In this context, and without a legislative mandate to change or to drive real reform, it is perhaps understandable that some professionals within social care see digital as being a short-term, shiny distraction that takes funds away from the frontline and delivers very little.
Indeed, this is the narrative we often hear across the sector. It illustrates how misunderstood digital is in a social care context, with many seeing it as just a new name for IT or a case management system.
Digital is about people, not technology
Despite the challenges in social care there is hope. Speak to many digital practitioners and they will tell you that digital is:
- Inclusive - it is not ‘just for digital natives’ and can help to relieve pressure on practitioners across the sector.
- Person centred - by putting users at the heart of digital, understanding their needs, researching what they want and co-producing solutions, digital can smooth the issues that are holding people back in their roles and create better outcomes.
- Central to communication and engagement - by enabling better communication with people who draw on social care, partners and stakeholders, digital can enhance transparency and trust.
Rather than focus on technology for technology’s sake, digital solutions support people and practitioners by focusing on their needs. Taking a digital approach will not fix the long-term problems of the sector, but it can provide breathing space for overstretched professionals and departments – giving them more time to focus on relational services that deliver better outcomes for people who draw on social care to live the life they want to lead. By viewing digital in a people-focused way, it’s clear to see that it has much more to offer than a simple distraction.
The only constant is change
Social care departments, along with councils and other parts of the public sector, are not strangers to change and innovation. Most areas of service have been scrutinised multiple times and constantly tweaked, just to keep functioning. But in social care, digital is often either poorly understood or held back because of a shortage of people with the skills or understanding to deliver. It’s often seen as ‘not for us’ and something for other services and organisations.
Instead of viewing digital cautiously as the cause of change, it can in fact, help you be better prepared for it. In social care, there are often delays in bringing in new reforms, and there’s a strong case to be made for making changes now.
This was the approach taken by Chorley Council at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The council capitalised on the automation and digital processes they had already adopted when Universal Credit (UC) benefit claims increased by 100%. By automating parts of the UC claims decision-making process, the council was able to deal with them faster and more efficiently than ever before. And, crucially for citizens, they now receive decisions from the council on the same day they receive their data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – eliminating any delays to receiving the financial support they are entitled to.
We are assured that in a world where everything seems to change constantly, automation gives us the best opportunity to meet new changes and challenges efficiently without burdening our communities with unnecessary delays.
The techniques and solutions that have been successfully delivered to create better outcomes in revenues and benefits can translate equally well in social care finance and when the new (now delayed) Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) reforms are introduced. LPS will protect the rights of people who are under high levels of care and supervision but lack the mental capacity to consent to those arrangements for their care. Rather than wait for the reforms to be introduced, social care organisations can use the time to better prepare for them.
By digitising record keeping and automating processes, digital can help to free up time and resource to focus on operational activity, helping to address current issues and better prepare professionals for future change.
Whether you view social care as being on ‘a cliff edge’ or at a defining point for people who rely on it, digital can be used to bring in changes, either as a single entity or collectively across the sector, to improve ways of working for practitioners and people care. This can keep the sector delivering, while it continues to wait for reform.
Learn more about how other parts of the public sector have used digital to enhance their services, transform the way they work and serve citizens better:
Speak to one of our experts about how we can help you to use digital within social care:
Business Development Manager, Capita
Nick brings over 25 years experience of digital and technology solutions in local authority adult social care and with organisations from across the health and care eco-system. He has worked at local, regional and national levels for a variety of organisations and recently joined Capita Public Service, working with local authorities and their partners on innovative solutions to the cross system challenges faced by the sector.