The NHS may be facing a steep climb in the quest for digital transformation, but spare a thought for social care organisations.

An NHS Digital-commissioned look at the state of IT in social care, presented at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester on Friday, revealed a myriad of challenges.

It comes after several councils criticised the Sustainability and Transformation Plan process, considered key for securing digital transformation funds, for being too focused on healthcare.

The findings, based on focus groups with social care workers from around the country, also showed a desire for more central guidance on best digital practice, particularly when it comes to information governance.

Workers often felt they had poor access to reliable practise information and population data, and the systems they did use were not well designed for social care.

Many felt their systems did not communicate with one another, or with healthcare systems, and contributed to long hours spent inputting data rather than assisting clients.

Mark Nicholas, social care lead at NHS Digital, said he had heard from one social care worker who spent five hours a day entering data. “We have got some systems that are not fit for purpose and are forcing people to use them in ways that are not helpful.”

Under-investment meant social care was about five years behind the NHS on digital maturity. “The sector does need additional investment to get them up where the NHS is.”

However, some big gains could be made just by providing social care with clear and more accessible information on digital best practice, he said. “A lot feel that information governance is really confusing, so that’s an area where we can help.”

One outcome of the research was to set-up a social care digital reference group, that would involve frontline staff in developing systems that worked for them. “These suppliers have some great systems but there are not always designed around frontline professionals.”

Nicholas said some people in social care had been unhappy with NHS Digital name change. It was previously called the Health and Social Care Information Centre, and the change has led to some concern that it is no longer interested in social care.

“But," he insisted, "we are doing more around social care now than we have we were previously.”

NHS Digital Chief Executive Andy Williams said: “we need local authorities and social workers to be at the heart of an ongoing conversation, on how to best harness information and technology to support the sector.”

The research was conducted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence and market research firm GfK. A second tranche of research, based on survey of 1000 social care workers, will be released in spring next year.