Whitehall gains deep insight into COVID’s impact on social care through upgraded portal

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood March 9, 2021
England’s Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set has been rewritten to offer a better user experience for both frontline workers and employers

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(Image by congerdesign from Pixabay )

Skills for Care is the strategic body for workforce development in adult social care in England. An independent charity with over 18 years' experience in workforce development, it works as a delivery partner for the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as with related services such as health and housing. It coordinates with 22,500 adult social care employers across the country to set the standards and qualifications for social care workers.

That's a big number, but the number of adult social care workers in England is even bigger: 750,000 team members. Skills for Care works with employers to gather data on the social care workforce, which aims to provide dependable evidence to analyse emerging issues for the social care sector. In April 2019, it superseded an earlier national database, the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS), and is part of on-going national efforts to create and maintain a well-trained workforce capable of meeting social care sector challenges. 

A key part of Skills for Care's job is collecting social care workforce employment information on everything from employment information, recruitment and retention data, demographics, pay, qualification rates and future workforce forecasts. This is then used as a source for helping all those social care employers make informed decisions on how they can improve delivery. 

All this data is then made available to central government, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), local authorities and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in helping them plan, fund and monitor the sector.

The main way it achieves this is through a web tool for collecting and maintaining data about the entire English social care workforce. As internal Project Owner of the Data Set at Skills for Care, Dave Griffiths, points out:

If the government wants to know things about the NHS, it can just go to the NHS, which is one big employer with one big HR system with lots of information. But adult social care in England is hundreds of thousands of people working across tens of thousands of different organisations, so what we aim to do is to collect data from that really disparate groups of care providers into one place.

The site gets at least a million page views per month, holds data on about 750,000 individuals who work in adult social care, and needs to be online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,365 days a year. And recently the portal, in particular its user interface, has been completely redeveloped to improve functionality and usability. Griffiths told diginomica why:

We're talking about a system that was built in 2007, and after 10 years we concluded that the service was required, but in its existing form was no longer fit for purpose. We also were aware that the original system was built with business needs in mind-we do need data-but hadn't particularly thought about user needs. That meant the user experience was very clunky, and we wanted something much more 2017 than 2007 in terms of that.

Modelling the impact of a winter 2020 influenza wave

The Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set plays a significant role in informing decisions on such areas as new COVID rules and the impact of Brexit on the English healthcare service. To take just one example, when the government was deciding if people over the age of 60 should all self isolate, data from Skills for Care was used to see what precise percentage of care workers that would impact. 

Tracking of exactly how many care workers have had the flu jab was then used to model the impact a winter 2020 influenza wave would have on the healthcare system: examples of how the data is used can be found on GOV.UK here, while examples of Skills for Care's own analysis is regularly published as in here.

Helping get this crucial upgrade over the finish line for the charity was Made Tech, which is a supplier of Digital, Data and Technology services to the UK public sector. Working in collaboration with a digital transformation specialist called Difrent, the pair came in to complete an earlier upgrade to the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set that Griffiths and his team had started with another consultancy.

The good news is that even though this change of partners was made not just mid-stream, but at the start of the pandemic (March 2020), a lot of value has been delivered, he reports. End users now have more things they can do with the site, they have reasons to use the tool and supply needed data, or as Griffiths said:

Care providers don't have to use the service, so it needs to offer a great user experience: these are busy people who'd much rather be providing actual care to people than filling out data forms for us.

The website's overall usability has indeed improved, he is glad to say. New tools make repetitive tasks and data entry go faster, while more support for data validation means Griffiths and his team get cleaner data in the first place. This means less time chasing stakeholders for the right information. 

There's also been benefit at the organisational level. Functionality such as tracking their staff's training and being able to compare their data to other workplaces has been added. Benchmarks is a new part of the website, where adult social care workplaces can compare themselves to other similar organisations in their area, across metrics such as staff turnover and comparative pay.

Support during COVID-19

As noted previously, all this had come on stream during the COVID-19 public health crisis. We asked how the new system had played a part in supporting the response to COVID, where Griffiths said: 

The data we collect as a service consistently updated the government on how the pandemic affected the adult social care workforce in England. We've been tracking absence rates of workers, vacancy rates over the lifecycle of the pandemic. 

Now we're helping advise the governments on how many vaccinations it needs to set aside to inoculate the care workforce. We would have needed the service to be reliable and to be working well so that we can supply that vital data to the government in any case, so we're glad it was able to deliver all that.

But for me, as a product owner, the real difference of this upgrade is quality. We've gone from having to regularly take the site down for one to two hours to make a deployment, maybe once every two months, to deploying as soon as a new piece has been tested and signed off. This means we can deploy fast, get new stuff out there for users as as quickly as possible, which means we got feedback as soon as possible.

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