In response to COVID-19, health and care services have had to change the way they support you overnight. Some non-urgent treatment has been suspended and face-to-face appointments have been replaced with video and telephone calls.
While health and care staff are doing everything they can to keep us well and safe, changes to how services work has naturally affected people’s experiences of care.
We talk to local Healthwatch services in Leeds, London and Lincolnshire to find out about some of the issues you’ve been sharing to help NHS and social care services understand the effect of COVID-19.
In Leeds: Showing the reality of people’s experiences
Healthwatch Leeds quickly understood they could play an important role in sharing what people were saying about services with senior leaders in the NHS and social care. Chief Executive Hannah told us:
“We started by working with third sector organisations in Leeds, like those who support asylum seekers and refugees, as well as care homes and condition-specific charities, to make sure we were capturing everyone’s views.
“From this our #WeeklyCheckIn began, where we asked people a simple question online about their current experiences of health and care. For example, one week we asked ‘Have you or a family member had to contact your GP or any other support service by telephone or digitally?’
“Combined with the feedback we were getting from our advice and information line (as well as that from other organisations and care services), we used what people shared with us to put together a summary of the issues people were having. We then shared this with our local NHS and council leaders so they could make decisions about how to improve the support available.
“This simple but effective approach has meant we’ve already been able to raise several issues. For example:
- Some care home workers not being able to go to drive-through testing centres because they don’t have a car.
- People in care homes and sheltered accommodation not always being able to see a GP when they needed to.
“We’ve also been able to highlight what’s been going well, such as the systems that have been put in place by GPs and chemists for people to get their medication.
“It’s really important we’re able to give the NHS these real-time updates each week, given how quickly things are changing. By sharing people’s experiences, we can show the reality of working and being cared for on the frontline, meaning leaders in the NHS and social care can make decisions grounded in what people want to see from services. Fundamentally this is what Healthwatch is all about.”
In response to their work, Jim Barwick from the Leeds GP Confederation said:
The ‘How does it feel for me during COVID-19? – Weekly real-time report’ has proven to be invaluable. Having insight into how people are accessing and experiencing healthcare during COVID-19 is vital. An example of this was in relation to care homes and a lack of clarity in what care homes can expect from GP Services and the impact of this on residents. This resulted in a rapid and focused piece of work to produce clear guidance and clear expectations for both care homes and GPs, with the intended impact being the right access to healthcare for residents.
Tell us about your experience of care
Has your care been disrupted by COVID-19 and its impact on health and social care services? Whether it’s good or bad, we want to hear from you.
It only takes five minutes and your feedback can help NHS and social care services understand the steps they can take to improve care for you and your loved ones.
In London: Finding out the information you need
After the UK lockdown was announced, Healthwatch Central West London wanted to capture how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting people locally. Eva, Community Engagement Manager explains how they began by asking a simple question:
“We wanted to give residents in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster the opportunity to share the full range of their experiences by asking ‘How is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting you and your loved ones?’
“By keeping the question as broad as possible, we were able to reach people who might not have heard of Healthwatch before and it allowed everyone to give as much detail as they wanted to.”
What did people tell us?
- Over half (67%) of the people who responded shared that social distancing and self-isolation was affecting their health and wellbeing.
- 40% also raised concerns about their mental health and how they were managing it. This included people feeling stressed, anxious and depressed, as well as being worried for friends, family and key workers.
- People also highlighted how COVID-19 was impacting their existing health conditions. For example, people can no longer attend groups and activities that were helping them manage their condition.
“I’m more concerned and fearful about how this will affect myself and my loved one’s mental health in the long-term than I am about catching COVID-19.”
“We have been working with students at Imperial College London, who have used what people said in the survey to produce useful information for people living in North West London. The data has also been shared with Community Voices and will be used in their project looking at the effect COVID-19 has had on BAME communities locally.
“At Healthwatch we have developed relevant information and guidance on the top three issues people told us about - social isolation, mental health and money worries. We will also use the survey to identify how different stages of the lockdown has impacted on people’s health and wellbeing. This will help make sure that our future work around coronavirus is guided by the needs of local people.”
In Lincolnshire: Asking how you are feeling
“Lots of appointments for my daughter have been cancelled, which we have waited 2 years for.”
This is just one of the thousands of comments that have been shared with Healthwatch Lincolnshire since starting their online survey about how people are feeling and their experiences of health and care during coronavirus. In the first week alone, over 300 people responded, sharing their experiences as services quickly changed because of the pandemic.
Dean, Healthwatch Lincolnshire Coordinator said: “We’re here to understand people’s views and it felt like we had to do this survey, regardless of what else we were working on. We would have been doing a disservice to local people if we didn’t. Now with over 1,400 responses, we have published our first weekly summary of what people have said.
“One of the questions we asked was ‘How are you feeling’. Over 50% of people who responded to the survey said they were worried about other people, especially those who are most vulnerable. Concern about putting pressure on services or ‘being a burden’ to the health system also featured in people’s feedback.
“From those with existing health conditions, the survey prompted people to share their experiences of operations and appointments being cancelled, and 38% of people felt their care or that of their loved ones had been affected negatively, including its quality and safety. While people understood why services have had to change, it is still causing anxiety."
“Cancer is an area we’ve particularly had feedback about. While it’s meant to be a priority for the NHS, it would appear from the comments we’ve had that people’s treatment and support has been postponed, leaving them to feel left in the dark about their care.
“Mental health also seems to be a cause of concern for people in Lincolnshire, with respondents consistently highlighting issues such as isolation, loneliness and anxiety. This may continue to grow as time passes unless progress is made in combating the restrictions caused by the virus.
“Finally, it is important to recognise the overall positivity of people, who are at this stage generally happy with the information they are receiving about coronavirus. 89% of people who responded have said it has helped them to adapt to their new way of life during the pandemic.”
What have we done with this information?
“Along with other Healthwatch, we shared the experiences of people in Lincolnshire with Healthwatch England. This was then used to inform a submission to the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into Delivering Core NHS Care and Care Services during the Pandemic and Beyond.
“We’ve also started talking with Lincolnshire Police and other partners. Together we are aiming to build up a bigger picture of the issues people are facing across Lincolnshire and more importantly how these views and feelings will be reflected as restrictions are slowly lifted.”