Connecting care providers this winter

Ian James, Deputy Chair, NHSX Joining Up Care Strategic Oversight Board and Care and Health Improvement Adviser Digital, LGA and Iain O’Neil, Digital Transformation Director at NHSX, discuss the importance of a digital approach to join up health and social care throughout and beyond winter and the second wave of the pandemic.

Working with the sector to join up care

We are in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic. The NHS and local councils have moved rapidly to implement the technologies that enable more health and social care provision to be delivered where people live. At the same time we are working to connect social care providers with the basic infrastructure and technology required to meet their immediate priorities. 

A new approach to joining up care 

NHSX, LGA and ADASS have formed a partnership to work together on key digital projects to  join up care between social care and the NHS. Our guiding principle is this can only be achieved with social care and health as equal partners. We are learning as we go and building foundations for joining up care as we deliver the digital elements of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Adult Social Care winter plan for 2020 to 2021, through a partnership with the sector, NHS Digital and NHS England and improvement. The winter plan has a particular focus on care homes but the principles will apply across all social care provision. 

Reliable internet connectivity underpins transformation

A basic necessity of current and future transformation is access to reliable internet connectivity. That is why we have published a range of internet packages that will allow providers to run relevant health and care tools and just as importantly, enable service users to video call loved ones and access health remotely.  

You can’t join up care without effective communication 

To enable social care staff to quickly and securely communicate and collaborate internally and with local authorities and NHS organisations, order tests and prescriptions more easily, and access discharge summaries and the NHS service directory, we are rolling out NHSmail to care providers and ensuring access to the MS teams collaboration tool. We will also regularly update the sector with news and guidance supporting the digitising of care on the Digital Social Care website.  

Joined up care through accessing and sharing information

We will also trial the use of existing digital solutions, such as the Summary Care Record application and proxy access to GP records, to give authorised care staff fast and secure access to up to date health records. Boosting direct care, wellbeing and greater personalisation of care, as staff make better informed decisions and are freed from chasing health updates, discharge summaries and accessing locally held paper records.  

We have published new guidance to support authorised social care staff to rapidly, safely and securely order medications online, through proxy access to residents’ GP online services account. This will reduce the number of phone calls between care homes, GP practices and pharmacies,  creating an audit trail and improving the dispensing of medications. Care homes that want to do this will be given extra support via NHS regional teams.

But widening access to health information requires effective data security and protection 

In the digital age, social care providers and their staff need to be confident in how they use, access and share information and data. To help, we have published a simplified version of the data security and protection toolkit (DSPT). We have also developed a substantial national and local support programme to provide practical support to help CQC-registered care homes to achieve DSPT compliance before 30 June 2021 and CQC-registered care providers to achieve DSPT compliance on or before 30 September 2021.

Tech for care homes with the greatest need

To ensure that care homes have the basic technology and infrastructure needed to enable residents to video call loved ones and engage in health care remotely whenever this is a safer or more convenient option than travelling to a traditional health appointment, we have distributed 11,000 iPads and data-enabled SIM cards to care homes with the greatest need. This is backed by a comprehensive support package, to help staff to utilise the iPads effectively to access care services on behalf of residents and use digital tools that will improve care and reduce administrative burden. As part of our commitment to those care homes that have received an iPad, we have responded quickly to feedback and will continue to work with staff to ensure they can access the apps and services that will support them to best meet the health, care and wellbeing needs of their individual residents both now and in the future.  

Looking to the future

We are confident that these winter actions to connect care will support the sector to meet some of their immediate challenges without placing additional burden on it. They will also act as a leveller, to overcome barriers and create the first building blocks to join up social care and the NHS. For example, while we will use existing tools to unlock access to health records, we will also continue to work towards enabling authorised care staff to write into health records, share electronic care records and automate the gathering of key management data. Enabling seamless collaboration across the multi-disciplinary teams caring for people across  health and social care. 

Joining up care is complicated and working in partnership with those providing and using services is critical to our success. We will continue to build leadership alliances over the coming months.  Connecting care providers is an important building block - both with each other and with the people they serve. Alongside this we are starting work to support skills development and build a vibrant tech market, attracting the digital innovation and new tools it needs. Finally we know that most social care is delivered by families and communities and we will develop our plans to cover the wider potential for technology across the wider social care sector.