Published: 01/07/2004, Volume II3, No. 5912 Page 20

Closing the gulf between health and social services is a priority.And managers need to know what is required of those working at the interface, says William Bryans

The Health and Social Care Divide The Experiences of Older People John Glasby and Rosemary Littlechild Publisher: The Policy Press ISBN: 1861345259.£18.99

ICT for Social Welfare A Toolkit for Managers Luke Geoghan and Jason Lever with Ian McGimpsey Publisher: The Policy Press ISBN: 1861345054.£17.99

Since 1997 when it announced its intention to create more seamless health and social services, the government has introduced a raft of important measures to improve collaboration between statutory agencies.

The most recent is the controversial introduction of new legislation to charge social service departments for hospital beds unnecessarily blocked by people awaiting discharge to a more appropriate form of care.

When compared with the completely integrated Northern Ireland health and personal social service model, which has been in operation since 1973, these efforts seem unduly complicated.

Surely there are valuable 'partnership' lessons to be learned from this context, especially from an arrangement that has robustly withstood the worst of troubled times? But doubtless there are many sensible, if perhaps obscure, reasons for an apparent lack of interest in what is in effect, an organisational problem.

In the circumstances many of these recent government initiatives will facilitate the work of frontline staff, but their detailed implications and ramifications are not yet well known. In consequence, the primary purpose of The Health and Social Care Divide is 'to provide an easily comprehensible introduction to policy and practice at the interface between health and social services'.

The authors, both Birmingham University academics, are well qualified to undertake the task.

Jon Glasby is a social worker and senior lecturer at the Health Services Management Centre, and Rosemary Littlechild is a lecturer in social work at the Institute of Applied Social Studies.

When it comes to the central issue of the efficacy of partnership, collaboration, and co-operation at the interface, little argument can be found among dedicated fieldworkers and frontline hospital staff whose efforts to find appropriate levels of care for vulnerable patients, clients and carers can be so easily frustrated by organisational hazards, differing cultures, difficult moral and legal problems and complex administrative arrangements.

The authors give careful consideration to the evolution of relevant government policies intended to stimulate joint working. These are set in a historical context.

Particular attention is paid to key research. For example, in the chapter devoted to continuing care, the authors relate research findings to coherent service provision.

Confusion sometimes arises from the lack of clear delineation of service boundaries and the reluctance to accept financial responsibilities. This has a detrimental effect on care available to patients and clients who may have complex needs.

In order to assist in a practical way, the book provides a variety of frameworks within which agreed acceptability criteria can be readily applied to situations in which partnership and collaboration are essential.

There are also copious real-life case studies that explore the implications for practitioners.

I found that these greatly amplify the many and often complicated points being made.

The book will help health and social care professionals to work effectively together to improve services to users and carers.

It will also provide an introductory text for those working and training to work in a multi-agency environment. In particular, social workers, nurses, therapists and clinicians, frontline practitioners and those undertaking post qualification courses will benefit.

In ICT for Social Welfare: a toolkit for managers, the authors seek to provide an accessible guide to busy community care managers in both the public and voluntary sectors who wish to develop services with the aid of appropriate computer power.

In this diverse field, there is enormous scope for the reduction of bureaucracy and the creation of one accessible record based on agreed basic data sets.

Computerised facilities are attractive options for speed, processing and information sharing.

However, before embarking upon large-scale purchases, it is essential that managers are able to define and specify their requirements.

In order to avoid wasting money, managers must also participate in properly structured project management and be able to test any proposals for maintenance of the system, accessibility and reliability.

William Bryans is the author of Managing in Health and Social Care: essential checklists for frontline staff (Radcliffe Medical Press) and Resource Management in Health and Social Care: essential checklists to be published by Radcliffe Medical Press in October 2004.