The Chancellor Philip Hammond announced on Wednesday 8th March an additional £2 billion for social care in England to fight the flames of the social care crisis, however the true source of the problems continues unnoticed and untreated. Council leaders have previously warned that the entire social care system stands on the brink of collapse. This injection of funding from the budget, although welcome, doesn’t offer long term solutions.
In conjunction with the budget Jeremy Hunt has hit out at the NHS and demanded that A&E services respond to the extra funding in social care by returning to their target of treating all patients within 4 hours by March 2018. Stating that the extra funding will help relieve the pressure on beds as patients can be discharged into community care.
Will it help?
Although it is a positive thing to receive this “rescue package”, it simply isn’t enough. According to a BBC article, “Social care chiefs have said they will need to spend nearly £20 billion on services this year.” So, will the £2 billion from the chancellor help? In short, no. It will be a band aid solution. To make matters worse, the £2 billion is expected to be phased in over the next 3 years, further delaying any real progress or effective solutions.
With the rising National Living Wage and the need for social care to fill the pay gap, there is a high risk that there will be no improvement in the quality of services at all, despite the added council tax bill of 3% established at the end of 2016. But there is a solution, to improve social care services and the delivery of care to patients, the focus needs to be on social care staff, their tools and processes and the service users. To achieve this, some of that budget injection must be invested in digital workforce management and the implementation of shared data.
The Workforce Crisis
The problems that exist within social care are not simply a lack of budget but instead a workforce crisis that must be addressed. Social care workers find their tasks are filled with laborious administration, paper work that is repeated several times and journey’s back and forth from the office. It is the need for these tasks to be completed that is causing the delay in providing care, caseloads are taking longer to address, building a backlog and a mountain that can be too steep to climb. The delay in the delivery of care is causing the pressure on social care that we see today.
This results in a high turnover of staff as they feel unable to give the time patients require or do the job they were trained to do. By not having access to patient information at the point of care, social care staff are making best case scenario decisions or delaying progression of treatment until a more informed decision can be made. Add this to the danger and lack of security involved in carrying patient records to and from different sites in staff cars and there is a huge and obvious problem.
The high turnover of staff results in huge costs in agency staff and low morale across the board – all stemming from old systems, processes and a complete lack of innovation and digital transformation. The extra budget announced will do nothing to start targeting these systemic issues.
For the service users, because there is no easy access of information, social care decisions are made looking at a limited view, in a reactive way and usually in times of distress and great need. Their delivery of care is delayed, as staff battle with lengthy caseloads and administration. For them this does nothing to help their situation and instead leaves many feeling abandoned and out of control of their own care.
Without a strategy, such as the Five Year Forward View of the NHS, the short-term solutions proposed by the government are wasted. But what is guaranteed is that we will be talking about these same issues in 2018 unless fundamental changes are made.
To reduce the paperwork and those tasks that are delaying the provision of care to patients, staff must be able to manage their workloads effectively. Social care staff need a digital workforce management platform, which will eliminate the tasks currently delaying care and improve efficiency. It will enable more visits, cases to be addressed and completed in a more timely fashion, and overall the patient will receive the level of care they deserve. Not only this, but staff will feel empowered to do the job they have trained and been hired to do, resulting in higher retention and lowered agency costs.
The innovation will not only improve the delivery of care and current staff’s performance but will also encourage recruitment as people embrace technology and the improved delivery of care. The patients themselves, will feel more confident in the service they are receiving as their care worker is able to spend more time with them and understand their needs. With integrated care and improved interoperability this will level up to the point where social care workers will be able to see a patient’s full medical record and have all that data at the point of care. A holistic view of the relevant patient records means the right decisions can be made at the point of service delivery.
These increases in efficiency and digital innovation will bring about fundamental changes within social care. The potential savings will be seen in effective time management and the ability to care for a greater capacity of patients, as well as improved staff retention rates. It will innovate the possibility of interoperability, where health and social care agencies can have access to a full medical record for patients, allowing more informed decisions and a greater level of care.
Although the Budget has shown that government are finally realising the crisis that social care has been spiralling into, this quick fix will not make the changes that will solve the problem. Instead the cash will disappear into the rabbit hole that is the archaic systems of social care. Only with investment in innovation will a change in the delivery of care be achieved.