This is not the place to debate the causes, management and fall out of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on adult social care, but there is no doubt that in overcoming the seemingly impossible difficulties of the last 18 months, councils and providers have had to innovate and invent to protect and save lives.
One area where we have seen a huge acceleration of activity, interest and action is in how digital technology can transform the way we put people’s ever-changing needs at the heart of our health and social care response.
Well before the Covid-19 crisis hit, as the use of things like smart speakers and wearable tech took off, our own experiences as consumers were already changing our understanding and expectations of how digital technology can be integrated into and help our daily lives.
What has changed more recently, however, is a clearer imperative to move fast, a greater focus on collaboration born out of necessity and the need to provide challenging and occasionally disruptive leadership across the public services to make things happen.
At the same time, we are also seeing more national support and investment in supporting the adult social care sector with digital transformation, for example through NHSX and new Integrated Care System structures that are emerging.
As a region, it is important to us that we are seen as a key partner in shaping and influencing the national, regional and local digital agenda and that we have the right capabilities to be able to do so.
This means collectively engaging in and being curious about digital and inviting experience and expertise across all levels of local government – from our directors to our front-line professionals – to shape our approach to transformation.
So, how are we trying to develop our digital leadership capacity in practice?
1. Finding, huddling around and supporting technology enthusiasts. We have recently launched our Digital Network which brings together over thirty representatives from across the fourteen West Midlands councils interested or working in adult social care technology to exchange learning, experience and support. The Network is developing its own work programme, is chaired by one of its members and has strategic sponsorship and support from our Directors. See more about the Network, as well as short video summaries of the sessions here.
2. Piloting a new approach to regional adult social care digital leadership. We are pleased to be working in partnership with NHSX, the Local Government Association, NHS Midlands and East Midlands ADASS in piloting a new, Adult Social Care Digital Lead Role for the region. The role, which is hosted by WM ADASS, is critical in helping us to understand and join up the array of digital initiatives underway in the region across health and care so that we can better engage in them and with our partners. We are already speaking to other ADASS regions interested in replicating this model of digital leadership.
3. Proactively influencing the national digital agenda. Our work and approach also give us new capacity to be on the front foot in influencing and shaping national digital policy and programme thinking. We recently, and for the first time, collated a comprehensive written response to the NHSX draft Health and Care Data Strategy, on behalf of all 25 Directors of Adult Social Care in the west and east Midlands.
4. Developing new partnerships to make the best use of resources. New links being made across people and organisations working in this area are creating innovative opportunities for pooling resources and collaborative working. We have jointly created and recruited two new Social Care Digital and Data Research Managers in partnership with the West Midlands Clinical Research Network at the National Institute for Health Research. It is part of the wider programme seeking to grow a culture of social care research in the region.
5. Keeping our citizens at the heart of what we do. We are committed to enabling a more participatory improvement programme, with people who draw on care and support in our region able to shape and partake in what we deliver. Building on our commitment to Think Local Act Personal’s Making it Real Framework, we have partnered with TLAP in 2021/22 to work with us as our ‘critical friend’ on our journey to ensuring a co-produced and personalised digital (and wider) improvement programme.
I am in the fortunate position on being able to concentrate all of my time on progressing this agenda for the West Midlands who through a tri-partite arrangement was able to create this capacity. This investment has enabled quick progress and momentum to build in a way that would otherwise have been more challenging.
Of course, capacity is key but so is leadership at a senior level which for West Midlands ADASS is provided through Pete Fahy, DASS for Coventry and Marc Greenwood, Head of Service for Coventry who chairs the regional group. This leadership model is highly effective while being both challenging and supportive.
Asked to provide a quote for this blog Pete Fahy said:
“The use of digital has took a quantum leap due to Covid-19 but long before this technology was a growing component of social care and health delivery. In the West Midlands we see the opportunity is now, as we emerge from the pandemic to not only cement the gains but use the last 18 months as a springboard to a more strategic approach that provides sustained change and improvement through technology. Our investment enables we are able to turn the strategic intent of our directors into tactical delivery across the whole region.”
Though there is always more headway to make in a quick-moving technology landscape, we are proud of the progress we have made since May 2021 and think we are at the start of what will be a step change in the way we think about and deliver care and health digital transformation in the West Midlands.
For more information about our digital or wider improvement programme please visit wm-adass.org.uk.