“Some sector, some workforce!”: Keith Strahan on the importance of the social care sector

Faculty Founding Fellow and Council member Keith Strahan is a registered social worker with experience working in multidisciplinary teams in hospitals, mental health, community and primary care. We’re really pleased that he has taken the time to discuss how adult social care and healthcare can work together effectively, using informatics. Keith is currently working on the Social Care Programme at NHS Digital, which includes a national project to help improve secure information sharing with social care providers, and he is a longstanding adult social care representative with the Professional Records Standards Body (PRSB).

I have recently been reading reports from the Care Quality Commission, the National Audit Office and Skills for Care, for example; The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England and The size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England. The facts and figures about the adult care sector in England are staggering and do not even include children’s social care and adult social care from the rest of the UK. Adult social care in the UK contributes £46.2 billion to the economy, representing 6% of total employment.

Did you know that the adult social care workforce in England is approximately 1.6 million? This includes those working in local authorities, as well as 1.25 million working in the independent care sector (including over 16,000 care homes and 8,000 home care organisations).

The regulated professional roles in adult social care in England include:

  • Registered Nurses (approximately 42,000): The vast majority of these jobs in social care, are based in care homes with nursing, with a minority working in non-residential care providers.
  • Social Workers (approximately 17,000): Most of these jobs are in local authorities, with others in the independent sector; there are also over 2,000 social worker jobs in the NHS.
  • Occupational Therapists (approximately 3,000): Although a majority of occupational therapists’ work within local authority adult social care, they also assess the needs of disabled children.

There is much to be learnt from these figures. With over 40,000 nurses in social care and 2,000 social care workers in the health service, traditional barriers to joined-up working seem to be irrelevant. The national priority for a more integrated health and care system, encapsulated in the renamed ‘Department of Health and Social Care’, demonstrates what patients/citizens have always wanted; namely, ‘one system’ that puts a personalised service first, supporting the individual and their carers, with health and social care working efficiently and effectively together.

I believe informatics can help join up the health and social care system. Increasingly, digital solutions will be centred around the individual; ideally enabling excellent medical supervision, with contributions from a truly multidisciplinary team. This should be irrespective of where the person is located, whether in a hospital, care home, or in their own home. This contrasts with the current situation, where information is often not even shared with social care providers. If it is shared, it is frequently by post or fax and patients/citizens are put at risk.

It is of concern that, with all the emphasis on improving digital information flows within the health service, social care providers are not routinely involved or sometimes completely ignored. This stretches beyond ensuring that hospitals communicate vital discharge information to independent care providers. Social care providers have much to contribute to better hospital and healthcare, through their valuable knowledge about an individual’s day-to-day life and in other areas such as personalised care planning.

From an informatics workforce perspective, it begs the question of how developing an adult social care sector digital workforce can be supported. There are some initiatives already taking place within adult social care sector, but every available opportunity needs to be taken! Therefore, I joined the Faculty of Clinical Informatics and was then elected to its Council.

I believe the Faculty presents a great opportunity to benefit all regulated professionals; not only for health but also for social care. As the Faculty develops, the prospect of being able to highlight, support and encourage membership from the wider social care sector and learn from each other is, I hope, very appealing. Who would not benefit from this?