Social workers facing digital information barriers

New research commissioned by NHS Digital has revealed that nearly all (98%) of social workers have difficulty with sharing information digitally.

While 49% had a smartphone to support remote and mobile working, more than a quarter of social workers in the study could only access case information while in the office.

This is despite there clearly being an appetite for the opportunities provided by technology, with 92% saying that it offered the ability to work more flexibly. Digital technology was used in a variety of positive ways to build and manage relationships with people accessing services, including:

  • communicating with them to gather specific data (as part of assessment)
  • delivering interventions (such as self-guided therapy or telecare)
  • supporting team work (peer support and online supervision).

Mark Nicholas, Chief Social Worker at NHS Digital said: “There was a great response from the social work profession to this research.

“The findings indicate that although social workers are keen to take advantage of digital opportunities, there are significant barriers around digital skills, systems design and guidance on information sharing.

“They are trained to facilitate change through the quality of their interactions with people and they can’t do this if they receive no specific training on digital, or spend the majority of their time struggling with inadequate information and technology.

“I know that social workers are concerned about bureaucracy and the amount of time spent inputting data. With the immediacy of digital technology comes the expectation that more can be done, when the systems in place can in fact create additional work.

“Social workers must have access to good information and technology to support them in meeting the needs of the vulnerable people they work with. NHS Digital will be working with the profession to make this happen.”

The research, Social Workers and Information Technology, was carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) in partnership with GfK on behalf of NHS Digital and consisted of four focus groups, telephone interviews and an online survey of 786 social care professionals.

The survey can be downloaded here.

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