Evaluating Get Connected

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2011

Employment Studies Issue 14

Linda Miller, Senior Research Fellow

Linda MillerGet Connected is a funding programme that has been offered to organisations in the social care sector to improve access to ICT (information and communications technology) for service users, family carers and staff, to enhance the quality of life offered within the service and improve opportunities for learning. Currently, most social care providers make very limited use of ICT and this imposes constraints for service users and family carers in accessing services such as email or social networking; similarly it limits the ability of providers to enable staff to access technology for the purposes of training or development.

Given this limited use of ICT, the Get Connected funding provided grants to organisations within the social care sector to install or upgrade their information and communications technology. So far the majority of the grants have been in the range of £5,000-£10,000, with just a few going up to £20,000. The money is provided by the Department of Health and administered by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, or SCIE. In April 2010 SCIE invited IES, in partnership with the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), to examine the impact that this investment has had on staff, service users and carers/family of service users. The evaluation is focusing on the first funding round (there have been four waves of funding in total). The majority of organisations that applied for and received grants in the first round were either care or nursing homes, or providers of domiciliary care (home care services).

Benefits of Get Connected

The evaluation consists of two rounds of surveys and case study visits and to date one round of the evaluation has been conducted – the second will be conducted later this year. Originally we expected to hear about implementation issues in this early stage evaluation, with the benefits starting to emerge in the later stages. However, it is clear that the benefits are already being seen by both service users and staff. In many of the nursing and residential care homes, the money has been used to buy equipment that allows residents to use email and the web. New or improved broadband connections have been installed to enable better use of services such as Skype. For many residents the changes had already had a real impact on their quality of life: a large proportion of the residents who replied to the survey said they now had access to email and access to the web. This was making a real difference to the things that residents could do:

‘Use the internet. Use Skype. Watch films. Use the wii.’

‘Check on Chelsea and Crawley football teams and be able to email my brother.’

As might be expected, there are varying skill levels amongst residents – some had used computers in their work prior to moving into the home and were confident about using the equipment – while others – in particular those with dementia or special needs – require ongoing support to use the equipment.

‘I can send my son emails in Australia and I talk to him on Skype. I make cards and little notes on the computer with photos on and attach them to emails. Our activity co-ordinator helps me do this as I forget how to do it sometimes.’

The other way in which the money is being used to improve quality of care is by enabling better access to training by care staff. Within just a few months of the first round of grant allocations staff were already using the computers to access and support training and development:

‘Access internet at work to research info for NVQ. Complete assignments. Research health or other issues for residents’

‘Look up conditions on the internet to gain more of an understanding of the implications these conditions could have on the residents in my care. It has allowed me to gain a better understanding of issues I could be dealing with and has helped a lot with my training, building my confidence.’

The technology was therefore having a twofold impact on quality of care through both direct resident access and use and through better training for the staff. However, there is a third way in which the  technology was starting to have an impact, and it is this that is likely to be the most important in the future. Under the Transforming Social Care (Personalisation) agenda, the way in which adult social care is planned, managed and delivered is changing to give people more choice and control over their care, to give them the freedom to assess their own needs, plan their own support and manage their own social care money, with the help of social care staff. For some residents the technology was already helping to bring about this more active participation in planning the care they required:

‘I now have an email address. I can contact my friends and family more through Facebook. I can now email my Dad who lives in America. I am working on my support plan. I am exploring opportunities that are there for me.’

The evidence from the early stage evaluation already supports the idea that this technology will help with facilitating personalisation, potentially helping with identification, purchase and management of services. We look forward to the findings of the next stage of this work.