Adult service users living with complex needs are particularly vulnerable. People with complex needs are faced with a combination of both health conditions and social issues, so they typically need additional support from multiple agencies.
In 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care asked NICE to develop a guideline on social work for adults with complex needs. The guide put forward the following definition of complex needs:
“People needing a high level of support with many aspects of their daily life and relying on a range of health and social care services. This may be because of illness, disability, broader life circumstances or a combination of these.”
Ultimately, every care worker’s aim is to support their clients by nurturing their overall health and wellbeing and enhancing their opportunities for independent living.
According to The Kings Fund, over 1.9 million requests for adult social care support were made in 2020/21. This represents an increase in demand for social services of 15 per cent for working-age adults since 2015/16, in part caused by a rise in the number of adults with disabilities and an increase in the population of older people. With this increase in demand and a rise in more complex conditions, we recognise the strain felt by those within the sector trying to meet the needs and expectation of our population.
In this article we will be looking at some important aspects of a service users experience, as well as how digital solutions can help mitigate the challenges faced by social care workers.
Let’s start with a scenario
Claire, 36 years old, has been using social care services for several years. Claire has a learning disability and epilepsy. When she travels outside of her home, Claire will sometimes require the use of a wheelchair as she can have difficulty walking because of her epileptic seizures. Claire lives with her elderly father, so support workers visit her every day to help with her care needs.
With Claire’s case in mind, let’s explore the aspects of care that service users with complex needs value.
What’s important for service users?
Being able to easily navigate through multiple agencies as an adult with complex needs is incredibly important. People like Claire liaise with a variety of services and people. Therefore, having clear lines of communication can really help to progress their care journey and achieve what they’ve included in their care plan.
According to The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, over 245,000 people have been waiting for an assessment since February 2022. This delay in assessing people’s needs not only has the potential to have a detrimental effect on service users’ health and wellbeing, but also has a knock-on effect on other sectors of care. People like Claire who’re unable to get quick adult social care for their complex needs, will be turning to primary or secondary services to help them with their immediate needs.
Access to a digital case management solution means service users can check their own care eligibility. This gives those with complex needs the freedom to fully describe their situation so organisations can determine whether equipment, home adaptations or access to activities are required.
Involvement in care planning
Claire has recently been advised of some art classes being run at her local community centre. By adding this interest to her service plan, care workers can tailor Claire’s care by organising for her to attend the classes.
The Care Act 2014 set out guidelines where local authorities have a responsibility to ensure service users are placed at the centre of their own care. Therefore, care professionals need to be able to provide the appropriate care to a particular service user based on their choices.
A digital solution allows care workers to view customised care plans made in conjunction with the service user. Online access also gives a user with complex needs the opportunity to update their own preferences throughout their care journey, being able to edit the service plan, view their own diary and amend schedules based on their own availability and preferences.
Continuity of care
All service users need to be able to build strong relationships with their care assistants. People like Claire have support for various areas of their life, some needing more specialist attention than others. For example, Claire has regular visits from a health professional to monitor her epilepsy. Claire will also have care workers to help with domestic tasks and attend different activities throughout the week, such as the art classes mentioned earlier.
Therefore, those with complex needs and all their care givers need to be able to update each other quickly and easily on the events of the day. If a visit can’t be scheduled or care is being revaluated, those involved need to be on the same page.
Having the ability to access care plans remotely, on any device, gives service users, their families and their care workers the ability to manage updates regardless of whether they’re offline or without phone signal. And being able to keep in touch between visits ensures continuity of care as well as helping to build those relationships between client and their different care workers.
What challenges are faced by care workers?
It’s understood that care professionals are continuing to struggle to meet demand for social care. Research conducted in 2022 by Community Care found that social workers were finding their caseloads increasingly hard to manage, with some reporting having over 50 cases.
Trying to find the balance between clock-based time and task-based time, care givers attempt to complete all tasks within the allocated schedule whilst giving personalised care to each client. Staff are subject to a considerable amount of manual administration that comes with supporting clients with complex needs, filling forms, updating records and liaising with other health professionals. These time-consuming processes are becoming more unmanageable for teams with larger and more complex caseloads.
Digital systems make it easier for care workers to manage the day-to-day care processes. Customisable portals give staff the opportunity to review and update service plans based on the services being used by their client. Bespoke reports can also be created for care professionals to analyse data / trends when making clinical decisions.
We recognise that more and more staff are choosing to leave adult social care. Data from Skills for Care shows that there were around 105,000 vacancies per day in 2022/21. These high vacancy rates have increased since the pandemic as the wider employment market began to reopen.
Care workers who remain in the sector are seeing mounting pressure to do more with less, as fewer staff are needing to stretch their time and resources to more clients. And with the growing number of service users needing care for complex conditions, understaffed organisations need to be able to quickly communicate with the other health professionals involved with their clients care journey.
Without seamless integration, other sectors become effected by the pressured workforce in social care. Delays in hospital referrals can occur if organisations haven’t the capacity to establish care plans for patients before they can be discharged.
Digital tools help to integrate services and reduce the time spent tending to admin tasks, by removing traditional paper-based processes. These benefits enhance communication and lead to a more efficient workflow, saving time for both staff and service users so care can be delivered sooner rather than later.
How can digital solutions enhance the delivery of services to people with complex needs?
The Department of Health and Social Care’s 2021 whitepaper ‘People at the Heart of Care’ sets out a 10-year vision for social care reform and includes plans of “At least £150 million of additional funding to drive greater adoption of technology and achieve widespread digitisation across social care.”
So, what are the top things to consider for any organisation looking to digitise, particularly when supporting those with complex needs?
Embrace mobile working technology
Digital systems are designed to help improve efficiency and client experience. Your organisation could benefit from technology that helps your staff to keep up with the growing expectations of the social care system whilst supporting the health and wellbeing of those with complex conditions.
Utilise digital functionalities such as mobile working. Staff will be able to access the system, referring to and updating plans at the point of care. Cloud-based solutions give more flexibility so teams can access information anywhere at any time and customisable, easy to use interfaces help staff and service users to navigate through their care.
Empower service users through software
Digital tools give service users and their families the opportunity to access their own eligibility assessment form. This gives them the time and space to go through all their conditions in detail as the first step in creating a person-centred care plan.
Allow service users and families to check all their booked appointments through an online system to give them control over their care plans. This open access puts service users, particularly those with complex needs, at the heart of their care.
Storing all correspondence within a digital system helps make your organisation more efficient. Having these saved records, from calls and SMS messages to emails and faxes, helps your staff save time as details can be quickly filtered, rather than manually sorted through. Effective and consistent records ensures that health professionals supporting those with complex needs are up to date with the care plan.
Digital tools also give your staff the ability to build bespoke reports and graphs to quickly spot data trends. This functionality helps staff to make informed decisions for their cases, ensuring patient-centred care for clients with complex conditions is achieved. Organisations are also able to provide digital evidence of care quality and safety during audits.
Get in touch
If you are considering your digital options and how they can enhance the standard of care delivered in your organisation, check out our CareDirector solution. The case management solution to help boost efficiency and enhance communication.