Digitisation in the CJS and Social Care Sectors

Digitisation has become a real government buzzword but what is it and why is it being presented as a solution to many national issues such as the national backlog in court cases, and health inequalities across the UK?

In many instances, when national institutions need to take quick and efficient action for people at critical points on their journey, vital information contained in personal records, professional records, evidence, and results of tests, are not at hand and cannot inform accurate assessments for action.

Using digital systems for record keeping appears to be the most logical solution to help ensure that all the information needed to make the best decisions for people can be accessed quickly via a computer or tablet. So, for efficiency and fairer treatment, the government, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and the NHS have invested in developing digital platforms that should enable a single point of access for people’s records and relevant files.

Common Platform is the digital platform developed for HM courts and Tribunals service. It is now available in every criminal court in England and Wales and should allow HMCTS, the police, and the CPS to use the same Unique Reference Number (URN) to identify a case and send Notices, Orders, and Warrants automatically to justice partners.

Unfortunately, Common Platform has technical weaknesses, such as cases disappearing from the system, sessions timing out, and other issues that have led to court staff twice taking strike action. In the NHS, the approach to digitisation is on a huge scale; billions of pounds are earmarked for rolling out digital record-keeping software, upskilling staff to be able to use new technology, and onboarding not just community care providers but service users too, to utilise technology for care.

In a 2022 policy paper, the government stated: ‘all integrated care systems (ICS) and their NHS trusts are aiming to have core digital capabilities, including electronic health records, in place by March 2025. ‘To understand how ambitious this aim is, it is helpful to view it in light of this statement by NHS Transformation, only a year previous to the policy paper being published: ‘At present only 20% of NHS organisations are digitally mature..(and)…Only 45% of social care providers have any form of digital care records.’

Despite the current disparity between digitisation in the NHS and their goals, and the failings of Common Platform, there is reason to hope digitisation will succeed in bringing some effective change in the NHS and local authority, if these organisations follow the lead of care providers like us who, as evidenced by the statistics shared above, are currently far ahead of the NHS.

We are successful because we apply digital methods for the clear purpose of delivering person centred care, and we can validate this because we work daily with our residents and participants. This is why we use years of documentation and records to form care plans and risk assessments that have practical, day-to-day use for the person to whom they belong.

The Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are now in place nationwide, to transform the way NHS and government funding is used for healthcare; moving away from the traditional practices that are hallmarked by rigid systems that prioritise the needs of the organisation over those of their service users, to deliver localised and joined up care for patients and service users, within their own communities.

Digitisation is one of the tools being used by NHS Trusts and ICS to facilitate this change. Federated data platforms will be used to record patient care, link up information between different NHS systems, and allow some of that information to be shared externally with GPs and community care providers.

The NHS state that trials in the UK have had positive results in efficiency; North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust trialed a digitised system called OPTICA to record and share tasks required to discharge patients in a timely manner, in place of their usual spreadsheet recording and sharing method. The Trust reported a 36% reduction in patient long stays, as unnecessary delays in discharge were reduced by using a single, user-friendly patient data system.

These results are exciting but in pressing forwards with these digital reforms, ICS and NHS will need to prioritise person-centred care as the primary incentive for efficiency rather than institutional benefits. A telling statement by the Public Auditing Committee should serve as a warning against losing focus on putting people first in any public system: ‘(We) are concerned that HMCTS (HM courts and tribunal services) does not fully understand how reforms are impacting court users, victims, or access to justice.

We welcome the initiative to utilise digitisation to make services and information sharing processes more efficient and are committed to sharing our expertise in delivering support, transformation, and enablement, in community settings to help inform the design and use of digital tools. SIG has put ourselves forward to help transform the current system and we are encouraged by the positive and compassionate approach that partners in the Integrated Care System have demonstrated.

We extend our offer of partnership to those in the Criminal Justice System, because digitisation must be informed by and implemented for the benefit of those that every public institution serves, not solely or primarily for the benefit of the institution itself.

Balraj Ballagan is Policy and Impact Manager at Social Interest Group