Julie Tyas 22 May 2020

Ensuring continuity of care in a time of crisis

Coronavirus is making people stay home, but what happens when that isn't a safe place to be?

There is a growing concern about the impact lockdown is having on domestic and child abuse sufferers, as well as the vulnerable and lonely. The number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline were up 49% in April, and police have warned that online child abuse is set to rise after almost 100 children were safeguarded across London in the first month of lockdown.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen local authorities working harder than they ever have before to continue to serve citizens, protect key workers, and provide support to the most vulnerable among us. And, since the start of the outbreak, it’s been incredibly encouraging to see social workers adopting new technologies that can help keep those at risk connected to care professionals who can help.

Technology is helping our social care sector in a number of ways, here are some of the crucial services I’ve seen in action in recent weeks:

Working remotely, staying connected

While most regular local authority social care activity is being undertaken virtually, social workers must continue to conduct home visits and assessments for the most vulnerable, so there’s a very real need to help them work as safely, efficiently and flexibly as possible. We’ve seen providers setting up secure apps that allow practitioners to access and update key information at the point of care. This way of working reduces duplication of effort and minimises unnecessary travel, by allowing social workers to complete work steps and update records wherever they are.

Similar services existed to a degree before the crisis, but its adoption varied considerably at local authorities across the country. We’ve seen the number of council’s adopting these digital practices accelerate exponentially since lockdown – the pace of change has been extraordinary.

Putting people back in control

Supporting vulnerable people with restrictions and less resource is a real challenge – social workers simply can’t be everywhere at once. As part of the solution, technology is helping to bridge that gap between care providers and citizens in ways it never has before. Public portals – where anybody, including members of the public, can submit safeguarding information about a person or family online – are enabling citizens to reach out to those who can help, in a safe and secure way.

As we’re seeing in other sectors, online conferencing tools are helping social workers connect with colleagues and even with the people in their care. We’ve spoken to councils across the country who have been using platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime to speak to people of all ages.

And if care workers do need to leave their home, secure, mobile digital case management systems ensure they have everything they need to be paper-free at the point of care.

Providing the missing link between health and social care

What’s really encouraging is that we’ve seen a real focus on interoperable platforms, which are enabling information flow between acute hospitals and social care, speeding up the transfer of care.

As a supplier we’ve been supporting local authorities and the NHS to get health and social care shared care records up and running to enable easy access to all of the information about an individual’s health and social care needs, saving time and minimising risk.

The urgency and magnitude of the crisis is proving that technology plays a vital role in providing continuity of care to those most in need, while also helping to keep social workers and other key care professionals as safe as possible.

The risk of these new ways of working coming to an end after the pandemic is high, but the events of recent weeks have presented very real use cases of how flexible, secure technology is helping to bolster the social care sector.

Julie Tyas is a registered social worker and senior strategy lead at Servelec

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