We have just begun a ‘discovery’ – a 12-week period of intensive research – to understand the social care information needs of people aged 65+ and what we can do to support those needs. I’m very happy to be the product manager for this discovery and I’ll be working with a talented group of individuals to explore a wide range of issues.

Social care information has long been a part of NHS Choices: our care and support guide is visited around a million times a month and our directory of services provides information about thousands of care homes and homecare providers. Content from both the guide and the directory are syndicated and reused by hundreds of other websites. This information is now due for review, and at the same time NHS Choices is moving to the new NHS.UK service.

Where we go from here is the question that this discovery is seeking to answer. Over the next 12 weeks we plan to speak to people who use services and their carers to understand their needs and the extent to which they’re currently meeting them. We will also talk to local authorities, government, charities and service providers to understand the issues from their perspectives.

The challenge we’re addressing

The term ‘social care’ covers a wide range of services delivered by an even wider range of organisations: local authorities signpost people to local services and perform needs and financial assessments; CCGs oversee eligibility tests for NHS Continuing Healthcare; voluntary and community groups and private companies provide local services; and central government manages statutory benefits like Attendance Allowance. An individual can enter the social care system through almost any route: from hospital discharge to referral from a local community group or police service.

It’s no wonder that those in need of care and support, their carers and even people working within the system struggle to understand the full range of services available and how to access them.

The Care Act 2014 introduced a requirement for local authorities to provide “comprehensive information and advice about care and support services in their local area”. This is not just about ensuring that those with the most serious needs can access services, it’s about helping to improve people’s wellbeing and independence. And it’s not just about people who receive financial help, it’s about people who fund their own care as well.

There are many good sources of information out there, but…

  • people aren’t always aware of what’s available
  • they don’t always trust what is available
  • key pieces of information, for example cost of services, are missing
  • the quality of available information varies from place to place
  • decisions about care are often made in a crisis situation, when time is short and emotions are high.

Working across systems – social care and NHS.UK

You might now be asking, “What has this got to do with NHS.UK? Local authorities are responsible for social care information and advice.”

While that is true we’re trying to think beyond organisational boundaries. Health and care are interlinked and the various parts of the system are increasingly working more closely to provide more joined-up services. Improvements in one area can lead to benefits elsewhere. If advice about home adaptations or local services helps people to access these and continue living well at home, everyone benefits: the individual, the NHS, the local authority, society as a whole.

Our existing care and support guide demonstrates that there are some things that NHS.UK is ideally positioned to do at a national level. For example, if we publish generic advice and information it means that councils can syndicate this instead of each creating their own version. A role like this is in keeping with our remit as the national information and technology partner for the health and care system.

Next steps for this discovery

By the end of this discovery we hope to have a proposal for how NHS.UK, as part of a network of national and local digital services, can best support the social care information needs of older people and their carers.

We’re keeping the feedback process relatively informal, and gathering input through discussion or email. If you would like to help shape and steer this work by sharing your thoughts, please get in touch with me by emailing james.higgott@nhs.net. You can also find me on Twitter as @jiggott.

4 comments

  1. I would be very happy to support your research. My background for many years has been how digital technology can be a bridge for citizens – not least when the needs of the elderly are well understood in terms of usability of technology for both themselves, carers and healthcare professionals. In my current role, Doctrina have a powerful online learning platform predominantly used to educate pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and indeed GPs. But the same platform (which is rich video content) is clearly able to communicate to those wishing to be educated on available services. For sure, older users will not all be “digital natives” – but learning to use a technology interface can be achieved. Based on my work with online services (for mental health CBT provision, working with older users with smart technology and/or digital clinical pathways) happy to contribute.

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  2. Comment from Maria Burton

    Would love to learn as you learn as we are working on improving the health and social care information available to Lambeth residents over the next 3 months.

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  3. Comment from Trudie Canavan

    In Leeds we are working on improving our directory that provides information to our citizens who have care or support needs, or who have long term conditions. We would be interested in learning more about your project and your findings.

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  4. Comment from Beulah Mary East

    Would love to learn as we are working on improving the health and social care information available to Hillingdon residents,over the coming months. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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