One of the sadder things for me in the last six months of 2014 has been to see the quite sudden decline of a good old friend due to presumed dementia. It has also been educational for me to experience first hand the way the health & social care system has responded (or failed to), as I have become his closest carer. More about that in a future blog.

As an IT professional I have long promoted online service user access to your own social care record. Ironically, the first indication that there was anything wrong with my friend was when I set him up with a new laptop and broadband connection .... at the start of the year. Charles (not his real name) had been a perfectly competent internet & email user only a few years earlier but had given his computer away. He just could not get to grips with it when I got him new equipment – however, many times I tried to show in the simplest terms how it all worked.

Just logging into his TalkTalk account to check his bill every month was impossible. And when I sat with him and saw the process through his eyes, I could see why. If you are not familiar with the conventions of web pages, they can be very confusing: lots of colourful words and images; many options and exhortations to do something; pop-ups trying to sell you a product that you do not understand; moving or flashing pictures. I switched him from a gmail account to yahoo which has a simpler interface but he just kept wanting his old computer back not appreciating it was the online software that was the issue and the email client he had previously used was no longer available.

This has been a salutary lesson for me, but does not alter the fact that online self-service for adult social care needs to be enabled for some service users or their carers. The business case for councils becomes overwhelming when you consider the requirements of the Care & Support Bill currently going through Parliament and expected to receive Royal Assent around Easter time.

The Department of Health estimates there are half a million current self-funders who will be eligible for a new Care Account from April 2016. This is a new cohort of people needing to deal with social services departments. Overwhelmingly, they will be older people. In many cases, it will be their children in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who will be applying for a Care Account on their behalf. After all, they have a big incentive to protect their inheritance from excessive care costs. This is a group of busy people who will expect an efficient service from their council – regardless of the major funding cuts local authorities have been subjected to.

My report for the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) in September goes into more detail of the system implications of the care funding reforms. It is called “Implementing Dilnot: just more data or a driver for change?”. I am presenting on it around the country – the next event being on 8th January at the North West ADASS Information Management Group meeting. I am also due to set out the case for “channel shift” from face-to-face or telephone to online at a Capita conference for the health and social care sector in February.

My personal experience with navigating Charles through the health and social care system has illustrated how better integrated working between the NHS and council social care is also critical. I look forward to being on a panel discussing this topic at a Kings Fund event on 15 January. Watch out for my next blog on the subject.

I am grateful in starting this column for the inspiration of Oliver Mills, Programme Manager for “Towards Excellence in Adult Social Care” (TEASC). He told me how he wrote a regular blog for staff when he was Director of Adult Social Services at Kent and that he followed a standard 3-part format: a personal experience, an issue for the department and thoughts about broader social care issues. I will adapt this to start personally, move to a broader issue and then connect to my own work improving social care systems.

And finally, if you want other stories to inspire from a range of current leaders in the sector, then look out for my forthcoming book: “Making a Difference in Adult Social Care – Release your leadership ambition” – due out in February (fingers crossed)!