Building the evidence base for digital innovation and capability in adult social care

NHSX recently commissioned Ipsos MORI and the Institute of Public Care (IPC) at Oxford Brookes University to conduct two related reviews: one on social care technology innovations and one on digital capabilities within the adult social care workforce, in partnership with Skills for Care. Jo Chandler, our head of strategy, skills and innovation, outlines how NHSX will use this research to help drive digital transformation across the adult social care sector and invites representatives from the sector to contribute to the reviews.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed how social care providers use technology, from increased use of video conferencing and online staff training to information sharing using secure email. Technology is also playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of social care services. This is demonstrated in case studies from the National Care Forum’s Hubble project, Digital Social Care and our blog post on digital home care for COVID-19 patients. However, despite the progress, there are still many challenges to overcome to achieve a digitally enabled joined up health and social care system.

NHSX is working with the social care sector to drive digital transformation and is supporting providers, local authorities and the wider workforce to feel confident in using, purchasing and accessing technology-enabled services. We know that without digital skills, the benefits of digital transformation cannot be fully realised. To understand current levels of digital skills and help address any significant gaps in digital capabilities within the sector we need a solid evidence base.

In December 2020, NHSX commissioned Ipsos MORI and the IPC to conduct two reviews: one jointly on tech innovation, and the other in partnership with Skills for Care on digital skills. This research will help NHSX identify what support and investment is needed across the sector. We are now able to share findings from the first phase of this work, the rapid evidence review. This work provided insights into existing literature and evidence gaps in both areas.

The first rapid evidence review on tech innovation focused on the adoption and scalability of technology innovation in adult social care. Key findings showed that while it was difficult to gauge the spread of digital technology there had been a rapid expansion as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in part driven by increased use of consumer technology. Improved care outcomes and quality of care have also underpinned the shift to increased digitisation, alongside increases in productivity. However, despite many examples of benefits accrued for people with care and support needs, as well as for providers and social care staff, there is currently no standardised way to capture or measure the benefits of technology.

The second rapid evidence review on digital skills focused on the current and future digital skills needs of the adult social care workforce. The review found that, although there is no agreed definition of digital skills for social care, various frameworks for measuring digital skills have been developed. Overall there is limited evidence and older studies suggest social care staff view their digital skills as basic. However, more recent evidence suggests this situation is improving. Formal training and help from colleagues are the most common forms of digital skills development and effective leadership and management is a key success factor. The review found there was little focus on the future digital skills needed for the sector within existing studies.

The second phase of work, involving fieldwork with sector representatives, is taking place until mid June and has built on the findings of the two rapid evidence reviews. Data is being collected through online and telephone surveys, qualitative interviews and discussion groups with a wide range of audiences. This includes care providers, technology suppliers and service providers, local authorities, care workers, personal assistants, people with care and support needs and carers.

Once completed later this year, the two reviews will help NHSX determine national policy priorities over the coming years and guide the sector on where to focus its efforts in relation to digital technology and skills in adult social care.

If you are interested in being involved in the fieldwork, please email uk-sri-nhsxreview@ipsos.com.

You can find more information on the reviews and current findings on the Ipsos MORI, IPC and Skills for Care websites.