Insights

Mark Raeburn: 7 minute read

The changing face of social care

Social care is a frontline service that when researched, can trace its origins back hundreds of years. These go back to reforms designed to make life easier for those in the poorer parts of society. In its modern incarnation, it can trace its origins back to after the second world war, the 1948 National Assistance Act and the birth of the welfare state.

Fast forward more than 70 years...

... and social workers are caring for thousands of vulnerable individuals during the worst pandemic to hit society for more than 100 years. They are continuing to go above and beyond, heading into a situation that is rapidly changing and caring for those who are vulnerable.

Health and social care are two sides of the same coin. We have championed this ideal since our inception and will continue to do so for along as we are here. Social care operates across adults and children’s services, oftentimes completing jobs that go unseen in the public’s eye but they are there every day, making a difference.

Before the millennium

In 1991 the landscape of health and social care looked very different from what it does today. The Children’s Act of 1991, alongside the Community Care Act of 1993 was beginning to be implemented across the country and social workers had begun adapting to a new way of working. These new acts marked the start of the move away from the Government being responsible for organising social care services to becoming the enabler of these services.

This change in service came on the back of broad political consensus and demanded a major rethink in the way that social care was managed. It was very much a decade of transition for health and social care, with technology being very much in its infancy.

At this time, dial-up connections were in use to access the internet prior to the millennium. Film trailers were the resolve of the patience, with an hour or more being required to download all of the data before you could view. The internet was basic compared to what it is today. There was no 5, 4 or even 3G and so digital case management was very much in its infancy.

Solutions were created around the technology that was available and in 1991, OLM was born. Beginning the journey to where we are today, Peter O’Hara, set up OLM with £1,000 in his pocket, with the simple vision to make life easier for everyone involved in health and social care. Investment in technology began at the very beginning and has not ceased in nearly 30 years. OLM began its journey during the nineties with CareFirst Green Screen.

The initial incarnations of CareFirst were created alongside practitioners, much like our latest technology platform, ECLIPSE has been. Since day one we have worked with practitioners to craft solutions around developments in technology. The early incarnations of CareFirst laid the foundations for the first web portal to be released at the start of the millennium.

Post-2000: technology makes an impact

The iPod, yoga pants and the arrival of broadband hailed the first decade of the new millennium. Alongside access to quicker and quicker internet speeds came 3G. Launched in 2003, 3G heralded the start of accessing the internet on your mobile and the move from a phone being just a phone, to being a smartphone.

The millennium was a key period of change for the world. For social care, it was a period of increased spending, with spending on adult social care increasing by an average of 5.7% in real terms each year (between 2001/02 and 2009/10). The second half of the decade saw the move towards the Personalisation Agenda, with personal budgets and the step towards putting people first, having choice over the care that they receive.

‘In its 2007 paper ’Putting People First‘, the Government outlined its vision to improve adult social care by adopting a personalisation agenda.  The idea behind personalisation is to enable individuals to live independently, and to have complete choice and control of the services they used in daily life’
Mentalhealth.org.uk

A need for technology to expand beyond case management was required here, with finance solutions for personal budgets being developed. OLM released its first web portal and continued developments with CareFirst, launching CareFirst 6 in the second half of the decade. Technology developments continued alongside practitioners, moving into the initial appearance of mobile solutions, to begin the move to increased flexibility when it came to working practices.

The move towards the Cloud

Coinciding with the introduction of the coalition government, spending on social care began to reduce at the start of the decade. In real terms, spending in the area of adult social care has fallen by 2.1%, this is in real terms since 2009/10. The main effect of this has been continual budget cuts and services that in some senses have been stripped to the bone. This has required efficient thinking in order to save money and continue placing the individual first.

Technology has really made its mark here. First with the explosion of the smartphone and second with the wide adoption of the Cloud, alongside the continued expansion of mobile data. In less than twenty years phones have gone from blocks that could sink even the toughest of ships to mini tablet computers capable of streaming live football games in high definition. The true possibilities of Cloud computing and mobile technologies are being explored every day and what this has meant for health and social care is freedom.

No longer are workers required to head into the office to update case notes. The technology solutions are there to complete work as they go, saving time and money in order to spend more time where it is needed most, vulnerable individuals and families. The past decade saw the number of smart devices outstrip the number of humans on planet earth.

"No other technology has impacted us like the mobile phone. It's the fastest growing manmade phenomenon ever -- from zero to 7.2 billion in three decades".
Kevin Kimberlin, Chairman of Spencer Trask & Co

The move towards Cloud technology prompted a new generation of technology to be born at OLM. If this was where the world was moving, then OLM wanted to be on the frontline, to enable health and social workers the opportunity to take advantage of the productivity savings that would be available. This marked the birth of the ECLIPSE Software and Services Platform.

Available anywhere, at any time, ECLIPSE offers social workers the unique opportunity to utilise any device to complete work around the individual, thus fully personifying person-centred care. The open APIs utilised within the platform have provided a solid development structure that has enabled speed of development, which has been essential when it has come to OLM assisting local authorities across the country during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Social work at the time of Covid-19

Covid-19 has put an enormous strain on all frontline services, the NHS first and foremost but all of the arteries that support the NHS are experiencing additional strain too. Social care is a key, frontline service, tied to the healthcare service and every bit as important at a time like this. Many workers have been moved to the frontline to continue supporting the most vulnerable members of society.

To aid the Covid-19 response the government has created, Community Hubs, which are a key part of the response to the current pandemic. They have been created to ensure that people are supported, with local authorities being required to respond rapidly with a digital solution to process the activity of each Community Hub. This is where the adaptability of technology has stepped up with solutions such as GoodSam and from OLM, ECLIPSE Lite have emerged.

Due to the agility of the ECLIPSE platform, OLM, created ECLIPSE Lite to support Community Hubs across the country at this time. The bespoke software solution is the product of evolution and working with social workers since day one. Technology has evolved alongside health and social care to the point today where it is an essential consideration.

Conclusion

Social care much like the NHS has been required to make adjustments to way in which they work over the last few months. From working in the office and having a rigid routine to moving beyond this bubble and embracing technology in a way that was unheard of before. Social care has changed and now the realisation of how much benefit technology can bring to the operation of each department is here.

Social workers can start and end their days around those that they care for. They are no longer tied to the office in order to take part in meetings and or to update case notes. Case Management solutions such as our ECLIPSE Case Management solution have been designed around the modern workplace and proven to be effective in today’s climate. The Cloud arrived years ago and is being seen for how essential it is today.

The versatility of such solutions enables bespoke offshoots such as ECLIPSE Lite, our solution for Community Hubs. Here social workers can administer the operation of their hub and keep volunteers safe. Technology has arrived and the way in which social workers are embracing it is going a long way to ensuring that people are protected.

Technology is an enabler. It has enabled social workers to adapt to the situation and work in new ways so they can continue to support their citizens. The interesting discussion will be how the old and the new blend together when the covid-19 pandemic is over. By looking at solutions such as ECLIPSE they can instantly see any test results for the family that is next on their list is quarantined and if so, not to visit. They are able to review notes at the click of a button and provide access to colleagues if quarantine is required by the worker.

Technology has enabled versatility in social work and the current circumstances have brought around the need to change quickly and without delay. The way in which social work is administered has changed forever but that core vision of caring for those who are vulnerable has not.