Cultivating the seeds of change in adult social care

COVID-19 has brought significant challenges to the social care sector, but it has also provided opportunities to try out new ways of working and to change current practices, which will benefit the sector in the longer-term. For example, the pandemic has set in train significant transformation in the way that data is captured and used. Now is the time to make sure this progress continues.

Daniel Casson, Digital Social Care Consultant and Digital Development Advisor to Care England

“The need for COVID-19 situation report (sitrep) data from the adult social care sector to help national and regional organisations (such as the Care Quality Commission, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities) make decisions has left a potent legacy. In 2020 and 2021, NHS Digital, working with software suppliers and adult social care providers, ran a trial collating data already being collected on care providers’ in-house digital recording systems to feed analysis about capacity in care homes, staff levels and sickness. The data were fed into an analytics dashboard to give a daily-updated view of the impact of the virus. The resulting analysis provided valuable insights into what was going on across the sector as a whole. 

“Extracting, combining and analysing information from adult social care providers is useful to everyone working both within and with the sector. It provides decision-makers and commissioners with data on the bigger picture and can provide individual organisations with a baseline from which to benchmark themselves, understand best practice and drive innovation.

“By drawing information from a small selection of adult social care providers, NHS Digital was able to test whether data collected from existing management systems could be the source of information to help track and respond to COVID-19. This way of working, pioneered during the pandemic to reveal data about the impact of COVID-19, could be replicated to reveal analysis on the daily issues faced by people accessing social care such as dehydration, skin integrity issues or falls.

“Data can help care providers manage resources, organise their staff teams as efficiently as possible and deliver person-centred care to facilitate quality of life and improved outcomes for people. Using data in this way has the potential to give staff teams “The Gift of Time” to care, while providing hard evidence of the true value of the adult social care provider sector.

“This evidence, in my view, will be the best lever to evidence the impact social care providers make to people’s quality of life and allow them to make the case for adequate funding, so that they can be part of an effective and joined up care and health system. Data collection and analysis is indisputably useful and needs to be organised in such a way that it benefits the person being cared for and the care provider organisations, while feeding the necessary data into the local, regional and national sitreps.

“The emergency COVID-19 collection put in place via Capacity Tracker played a positive role in collating adult social care provider data. It did mean that providers had to complete extra tasks when staff time and numbers were extremely stretched. That is why NHS Digital and three of the major digital care records suppliers to care homes and home care organisations in England (Nourish Care, Person Centred Software and everyLIFE Technologies) ran the pilot described above to see if it would be possible to reduce the burden on staff by collecting the data once and using it for analysis. The pilot was largely successful, and there were some key learnings.

“The care providers engaged were happy with the results, because the system required very little extra input from them. They realised that this way of working has the potential to give them clear benefits, such as access to cumulative, comparative data to be able to benchmark their services.

“This way of working also gave them the ability to:

  • identify early trends for planning purposes
  • plan their provision for service users better
  • improve their business model with the analysis they receive.

“The data analysts produced good analysis, which could have been enhanced if they had had access to person-level data (rather than aggregated data) to allow them to sense check the assumptions and the results at a national or regional level.

“Collaboration is key. If services can work with software developers and data analysts (and existing systems such as Capacity Tracker) from the beginning to design an effective system, then it is possible to ensure that the right data is collected in a way that doesn’t increase the burden on care providers and provides them and the regional and national bodies with valuable data.”

“One of the results of having to work under COVID-19 conditions is that it has motivated the adult social care sector and the NHS to put in place systems to resolve some of the digital maturity and connectivity issues facing the sector. Digital maturity is inconsistent across different providers, and there is the need to ensure that the systems put in place are interoperable and break down the cultural barriers to sharing data between health and care settings.

“I think this pilot has shown that these barriers are not insurmountable, and now we need to capitalise on the new buds of transformation to make sure the sector seizes this critical development opportunity. The NHS Digital experiment was a bold venture at a time of stretched resources and gave a taste of what can be achieved. It was done on a shoestring. With a full funding base and a resourced analysis programme, data collection from existing care management systems could be the way to a better, data-led care and health system, fully involving adult social care providers.”