Building bridges with data

The relationship between the NHS and social care providers has traditionally been problematic. But could new initiatives to share data help bridge the gap between the two sectors, asks freelance social care writer Eleanore Robinson?

Collecting and sharing information from social care providers and the NHS and, crucially, using it to make informed decisions, is something the TEC Services Association (TSA) has been trying to achieve through a series of leadership roundtables. Among the difficulties highlighted is a failure to optimise data, explains chief executive Alyson Scurfield: “We are collecting data but not intelligence. We do not maximise this data. We [need to] see how we can use that to get better outcomes for people.”

Among the examples of good practice in data optimisation is the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, which is developing a ‘whole-system’ approach to health and care, linking up not just health and social care but housing too, in order that people might live in the community for up to five years longer.

“We want to take the data in the system and make it meaningful and get it to the right person, including data gathered from TEC devices”, Scurfield added. “You need a robust strategy like they have in Manchester. The community needs to work together. We are never going to achieve five quality years if you sit in silos.”

NHSmail
A key way of connecting care entities cross-sector is NHSMail. Social care operators achieving compliance through the  Data Security and Protection Toolkit can apply to join this secure email service used by both central and local government to share confidential health and social care information. As well as being able to verify information with hospitals, GPs and local authorities, providers using the system can access training.

Swanton Care is one care home operator using NHSMail. It uses the system to send Deprivation of Liberty application forms and change of circumstances information, as well as sharing sensitive documents such as contract data with commissioners and local authorities. 

“The people who have got it now say it is just so much more helpful to contact their GPs”, explained Daniel Casson, digital development executive at Care England. “There is so much work going on and social care needs to be part of that.” He said there are thousands of pieces of data being inputted each moment through electronic care plans. Families are recording information themselves, as are residents through feedback. “We are getting more qualitative information”, he said. This can feed into CQC inspections, giving consideration to the gathering of digital information when assessing if a care home is well-led.

Care England is part of a consortium of nine trade bodies behind the website www.digitalsocialcare.co.uk, launched in June, which is encouraging operators to embrace digital technologies. Another is the Registered Nursing Home Assocation (RNHA). Its digital engagement manager Katie Thorn said: “People feel there has been a change in attitude from the NHS towards social care. It varies region to region but it is a more collaborative approach.”

Thorn believes that a growing number of people are getting involved with NHSMail. She said: “It is a really positive change. At the end of the day it is about the culture, not the technology.”

This is a point echoed by the TSA. Scurfield said: “Good data will never be achieved without looking at the workforce culture. If you do not get people to see what better care can look like enabled by tech, you will never see a sea change.” To facilitate providers, the TSA is working on a new Level 2 qualification around digital care, which will be extended to senior management level.

Currently only one fifth of care homes have electronic care plans and some, not even broadband. Casson says: “With the smaller providers to get the take up is going to be very difficult as they might not even have broadband. But it is going to become a need to have rather than a nice to have.”

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