Being there: Mobile working in social care
Published by TotalMobile for TotalMobile Ltd in Care and Support and also in Communities, Local Government
Adult Social Care
The key to transforming morale and efficiency in social care is to make it easier for case workers to do their jobs, says Colin Reid, CEO of Total Mobile.
Social care is one of the most critical state support services provided to the public, alongside healthcare. Yet the issues faced by the sector are at least as onerous as those facing the NHS. Even without the call to collaborate more openly and fluidly with healthcare providers and other partner agencies as part of the Government’s Integrated Care agenda, social care service teams are under enormous pressure just to fulfil their existing remit.
Recent Kings Fund reports contain some alarming findings about the level of morale among staff, as well as sobering statistics about the high turnover of employees, the number of unfilled vacancies, and the rising skills gap. Most of these issues are due to the strain on services, and the severe implications when social care is seen to fail its most vulnerable wards.
Currently, it is not uncommon for social care teams to have more than 20% of jobs unfilled. Work-related stress means that, after departments have put staff through extensive training, all of that investment could be lost within just a few years as those employees exit the profession, jaded and burnt out. There is a risk of a downward spiral too, as persistent gaps in the team increase the workload for other staff members who are already struggling to stay on top of things.
Clearly this is a situation that can’t go on, so local authorities must find a way to alleviate the strain on their staff. Given that budgets are under continued pressure, the only way to achieve this is to support and empower employees by making it easier for them to do their jobs well.
In addition to large caseloads, social workers spend an inordinate amount of time on administration – much of this manual and paper-based. In the worst cases, care workers are reported to be spending less than 15% of their time with service users. This inefficiency is costly to the organisation, stressful to the care worker, and has a detrimental effect on the services being provided. Not only do social workers have limited time to spend with clients, they may be going into situations without the latest insight into a case.
It is for many of these reasons that local authorities are discovering the value of advanced mobile productivity tools for care workers – solutions for creating, processing and accessing digitised case files and associated administration on mobile devices.
The impact of such tools can be significant and immediate. Once social workers can fill in forms electronically using a mobile device, or access relevant documents and information quickly and reliably at the point of need, there is no longer a need for them to return to base to update information or pick up files. It also means that everyone can see the latest information, because paper-related bottlenecks are now removed.
Leading by example
The potential benefits for social work departments are so considerable that local authorities including Nottinghamshire County Council are prioritising these teams for new mobile-working initiatives, ahead of other user groups. The perceived advantages are that care workers will get to spend a lot more time with service users – improving levels of care, while boosting employee job satisfaction and alleviating stress, and driving down internal administration costs. Early tests of the roll-out at Nottinghamshire have been very well received, to the excitement of the internal IT team because the idea is to extend the rollout of the core technology right across the Council.
healthcKey to the success of Nottinghamshire’s plans is its choice of mobile strategy. Even within social care, the needs of users are diverse because care services range from adult care and child protection to domiciliary services – each having their own processes and priorities. Rather than implement a single, generic solution that tries to do too much, or foot the bill for a series of individually customised applications for different user groups, Nottinghamshire has chosen a mobile working platform that combines the best of both scenarios.
Each variation of the solution uses the same based technology, and pulls in, collects and manages data in much the same way, but in each case the user interface – the way the solution looks, feels and behaves – is designed to reflect the way each group of people naturally works. Because the user-facing part of the application has been designed with the specific type of user in mind, there is almost no learning curve and staff feel the benefit very quickly.
At Nottinghamshire County Council, this has had a direct bearing on user acceptance and led to an rapid rise in staff satisfaction. Users are also shielded from the way that data is drawn down and combined. This could reside in umpteen different databases, but all the user has to do is select the cases or forms he or she needs access to for the day ahead, and the software takes care of the rest.
Pivotally, Nottinghamshire’s chosen mobile-working scenario does not rely on a continuous Internet connection. If connectivity is lost, the content remains securely accessible on the device, and re-synchronises with head office systems the next time they are online. This means care workers can carry on being productive even if they are out of network range. Also, the mobile working solution is designed to operate optimally on the user’s given mobile device – so if they’re using an iPad it will work like any other iPad application; the same if the handset is an Android device, BlackBerry, etc.
As the benefits being experienced by Nottinghamshire social care teams are highlighted to other departments across the council, the vision is that spin-off solutions will be developed at a minimal incremental cost. This is because they will share the same core platform, and can be easily configured for each new user group – with the appropriate workflows, sets of forms, and recognised processes.
Councils in Fife in Scotland, Cardiff in Wales, and Newcastle in north-east England, all of which have been using mobile-working solutions in other parts of their organisations are among those who have now declared their intentions to adapt their existing mobile technology for use in social care, because of the scale of potential for transformation here. At Fife Council, which has one of the most ambitious visions for efficiency transformation through mobile working, the same core technology platform is being used for a council-wide rollout. This is expected to deliver £20m in cost savings; Fife Council has been tasked with saving £100 million by 2017 as part of widespread budget cuts.
Given the relative size of social care departments, and the scale of the challenges they face, it is hardly surprising that councils are now prioritising these functions for transformation – particularly as demand for these services is growing sharply, at the same time that budgets are being frozen or reduced.
As momentum grows around the Government’s Integrated Care initiative, there is a further benefit to efficient mobile working supported by seamless back-end information integration. With the right platform underneath, councils should find it easier to securely share and combine data with other agencies. This will empower care workers further still, and help the public sector to deliver a more efficient, joined-up proposition that brings new benefits to service users.
The key to success and to a strong business case is to get the mechanics right. After that, the only limit is the vision of what’s possible.