In January 2020, few of us could have imagined the calamity about to hit our nation. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched every area of life and, with the crisis yet to pass, we may not comprehend the toll it has taken on our wellbeing, health and prosperity for some time.
Although the future is uncertain, some clear messages have already emerged from the pandemic.
With data suggesting that if you live in a deprived area, you are twice as likely to die from COVID-19, emphasising the inequalities we knew existed before the pandemic, society must address the worse health outcomes some people face just because of where they live, their income and their race.
Tackling unfair health differences will need those in power to listen, hear the experiences of those facing inequality, understand the steps that could improve people’s lives, and then act on what has been learned.
At Healthwatch, we stand ready to help by doing more to amplify the voices of communities that go unheard.
The pandemic has forced rapid changes in how some things can be done, and we must make sure we do not revert to old ways where the new ones have been shown to be better. The benefits of integration and collaboration have been there for all to see.
NHS and social care staff have shown extraordinary adaptability to meet the demands resulting from COVID-19 and deliver as much everyday support as possible.
For this, the public is grateful, but they want to do more by looking after their own health and assisting services to identify issues affecting their support.
Before COVID-19, the Government had ambitious reforms in train to deliver the efficient, personalised, joined-up health and care service people want. These changes also aimed to help the NHS deal with the rising demand for support linked to an ageing population, lifestyle-related diseases, and the increasing cost of support.
With the NHS and social care services now facing an unprecedented backlog of physical and mental healthcare caused by the pandemic and public pressure to tackle health inequalities, reform is needed more than ever.
Reforming health and social care will not be easy. It will require difficult choices; decisions that can only be made in partnership with the public if healthcare reforms are to work.
Here to help
Last year we achieved our goal of supporting over a million people to share their views and access advice and care information. This achievement is a testament to the years we have invested in building up our links with local communities and the NHS and social care services that serve them.
We plan to use this strength, not only to help tackle COVID-19 but also to assist in the nation’s recovery. This means a sharper focus on hearing the views of those the system currently overlooks and making sure our evidence gets to those with the power to act swiftly. It also means making the argument for investing in community engagement at every level of health and care.
Although we face unprecedented challenges, I firmly believe that both communities and clinical and care staff share a passion to work together, to face these issues head-on so that everyone can get the health and care they need.
Our impact: 2019-20
Over 350,000 people shared their views with Healthwatch about their experience of health and social care, including their experiences of COVID-19.
Take a look at our impact page to find out more about last year's highlights.