Public Services > Healthcare

The Care Act: No time to dilly dally

Published 14 May 2015

The Care Act provides local authorities with a chance to put in place a robust digital environment that lends itself to wider organisational benefit, writes Aingaran Pillai, CTO and founder of Zaizi


For the first time, the Care Act places a legal duty on local authorities for the delivery of adult social care. The care costs cap will come into effect in April 2016 and this is likely to be the backstop date for implementation.

From then on, local authorities will need to marshal resources across multiple agencies including the police, health departments, housing associations and independent consultants in order to develop a care plan as unique as the individual themselves.

The aim is a relatively simple one - to ensure that departments work together more effectively to the benefit of the patient. But often the simplest of goals are not the easiest to achieve. The advantages of the Care Act are obvious. A move towards a proactive care model will help to remove inefficiencies, bolster the performance of social care and create a more patient-centric model of care.

Political fall outs offer no cover

However, just because it makes sense, doesn't mean it will be easy. The risk is that in the uncertainty that follows the General Election, local authorities will cross their fingers and hope for a period of grace. This is folly. There is a real imperative for local authorities to understand the implications of digitising social care and the impact it will have on their organisation. For example, the health and social care network protocols and how they will transition to this from the PSN and N3 networks.

In many ways, the challenges are symptomatic of the political environment. Serious breaches of care occur; reviews are undertaken by central government and the findings then pushed down to local authorities, which invariably do not have an IT strategy for multi-agency working. The tendency therefore with deadlines looming and threats of fines and/or bad publicity is to find a solution that 'fixes' the problem. However as the 'fixes' of recent years start to mount up, they are becoming like teenage children - hard to control and unpredictable.

There may be trouble ahead

Local authorities face some key hurdles that need to be overcome in relation to the Care Act. Firstly, In order to ensure that they are secure and compliant, they need to break the rule book that says in order to work effectively together it is necessary to integrate all departmental IT systems together. This is time consuming, ineffective and a highway to nowhere.

Getting rid of email might sound extreme ,but to engender new ways of working sometimes you've got to break bad habits. Rather than wasting time down in the IT weeds, local authorities need to create a collaborative working environment that is more than a shared drive, but is in essence virtual co-location. The ability to seamlessly collaborate has a vital role to play in helping to overcome the cultural barriers that come with multi-agency working. Teams are used to operating in silos, they need to be equipped with a platform that brings them together and makes the new way of working together intuitive and easy.

Onboarding patients

However, it isn't all about internal staff. Under the Care Act, individuals must be able to access their care plan digitally. Bearing in mind that many of the people covered by the act will be elderly, it is imperative that they can access these plans with ease. If they find it overly complicated, they could disengage from a programme that at its very heart seeks to make them more autonomous and responsible for their future. This also raises the need for a 'patient' area and a 'staff' area as confidential conversations relating to care plans between departments should remain just that.

Secondly, the fact that so many people are going to be working together brings with it questions of security. Exceptionally sensitive information will be hosted online and this introduces new vulnerabilities. Many local authorities will have plans in place for if a smartphone or laptop is lost in the back of a cab, but until now councils have not been holders of the type of sensitive information that could make them a prime hack attack target. Given it is likely that information will be shared via a cloud environment, local authorities must understand how systems are secured, by whom, how regularly they are tested and have associated back up plans.

And lastly, compliance. Like all government bodies, local authorities must comply with the Data Protection Act. Moving towards a digital system should in no way compromise this and it's important that relevant workflows are created around each document to ensure that the data is destroyed within the relevant time period.

It might not seem it on the surface, but the Care Act provides an opportunity for local authorities to stop firefighting and put in place a robust digital environment that not only addresses the act itself, but also lends itself to wider organisational benefit and a digital blueprint for the future.

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