Volunteers are a vital part of the Healthwatch community. More than 4,000 people across the country give up their time to help make sure that people have a say in how health and social care services are run.
As part of the Healthwatch Network Awards 2019, our Outstanding individuals who’ve made a difference award celebrates volunteers who have gone above and beyond to put people at the heart of care. Take a look at the nominees for this year’s award.
Healthwatch Brent: Helping people in sheltered housing feel safer
Sheltered housing schemes are designed to make life for older people easier. People rent or buy their own flat or bungalow, which is part of a block shared with other people in their age group. Accommodation is adapted to suit people’s needs, and people have access to a range of services to help them live their lives.
A core part of Healthwatch’s work involves visiting different services to see how well they’re meeting people’s needs. When it comes to sheltered housing, this means speaking to residents about their psychological and social wellbeing, care planning, complaints, their experiences of staff, what’s working and what could be improved.
Healthwatch Brent volunteers Mary Evans, Margaret Oyemade, and Volunteer Project Officer, Ibrahim Ali, visited a scheme in the local area and discovered that residents were feeling unsafe because of antisocial behaviour happening in the area and intruders coming into properties, some of whom had been under the influence of drugs.
Feeling unsafe has a significant impact on people’s wellbeing, so the team spoke to the Housing Officer about the changes people wanted to see.
As a result, several changes have been made, including:
- CCTV with remote monitoring has been installed. This should also help address a fly tipping issue happening in the area.
- Doorways will be monitored and any suspicious activity reported to the police.
- Security lights have been installed and the potential to have security gates put in place will be explored.
This visit showed what an important role Healthwatch has to play in supporting people’s wellbeing. Thanks to Mary, Margaret and Ibrahim, the lives of people living in this sheltered housing scheme are being dramatically improved. Residents now feel safer and more confident speaking to their Housing Officer and the police.
Healthwatch Bucks: How Mike helped his community take charge of their health and care
Without clear information about health and social care services, people can’t take charge of their wellbeing.
Healthwatch Bucks had been looking at leaflets about services in the area one by one to see how they could be improved, but one of their volunteers, Mike Etkind, decided to do more. Mike reviewed a whole range of materials, so that he could spot where the problems lay and help make area-wide communications better.
Mike checked 15 different leaflets and documents and, using a well-known readability testing system, found that only one was written in plain English. Six were rated ‘difficult’ and four ‘very difficult’ to read.
Informed by Mike’s research, Healthwatch Bucks made a series of recommendations to local services about how they could make materials easier to read. These included: adding a simple summary at the start of each document, giving readability training to anyone responsible for approving materials, and reformatting folded leaflets when they’re shared online.
As a result, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust has taken various steps to make its communications better. It’s created a new communications advisory panel made up of patients, it’s arranging training for staff, revising its leaflet template, and creating guidelines for staff to follow when writing materials for patients.
Mike’s findings have also influenced county-wide change. Buckinghamshire County Council has taken Healthwatch Bucks’ recommendations on board and provided training and toolkits to help people produce more accessible documents and committed to regularly checking what’s produced to make sure Mike’s tips are being followed.
This project highlights what a fantastic contribution a volunteer like Mike can make to people’s experiences of health and social care by spotting how a simple issue could be improved.
Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire: Volunteer instrumental in improving lives of care home residents
When a care home in the local area was told by CQC that it needed to improve, a Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire volunteer stepped in to help make sure residents had a say.
Spring House care home in Hornsea kicked off its ‘Getting to good’ project after it got a ‘Requires improvement’ rating from CQC, including an ‘Inadequate’ rating for safety. The care home’s manager contacted Healthwatch to ask for its input and Pam, a volunteer, agreed to make regular visits to help work out where changes needed to be made.
Initially Pam visited every week, observing everyday life at the home, how the staff interacted with the residents and how safety policies were adhered to. She also went to staff meetings to get a good understanding of all the issues the home was facing. After each visit, Pam would let the home know what it should work on before she came again, to help make residents’ lives better.
This project helped the home change and improve dramatically. The commitment of the staff and management team, combined with Pam’s invaluable insight into residents’ experiences turned the home around and saw it achieve a ‘Good’ rating by CQC in all areas in their most recent inspection.
Thanks to the success of this project, Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire has now been asked to help other care homes in the area deliver a better service.
Healthwatch Surrey: Making access to sexual health services better
A Healthwatch volunteer was instrumental to changes made to sexual health services in Surrey.
Liz Sawyer visited a sexual health clinic to speak to patients about their concerns after people with HIV and sexual health conditions contacted Healthwatch Surrey to share their experiences of using local sexual health services. Liz then wrote a report letting those in charge know what needed to improve.
Through her work, Liz has enabled Healthwatch to raise concerns about:
- People being turned away because of insufficient staffing levels and a lack of appropriately skilled staff.
- Patients struggling to get support through the central booking office, and the phone lines to local clinics and the booking office being expensive.
- Negative patient experiences of sexual health services.
In response to these concerns, local providers are going to recruit more staff, invest in training, introduce booked appointments, make more appointments available for booking online and monitor call costs.
Liz has also shared her findings at a national level. She submitted written evidence to the National Health and Social Care Committee’s sexual health inquiry and was invited by the Committee to participate in a workshop attended by MPs, commissioners, GPs and providers, where she was able to champion the voices of Surrey residents.
With Liz’s help, Healthwatch Surrey is keeping an eye on what people think of local sexual health services and working with those in charge to make sure people’s views inform changes.
Healthwatch Essex: How one man helped make cancer care better by sharing his experience
Before he sadly died in May 2019, Mike Chapman went out of his way to use his experience to help make care better for other people affected by cancer.
A former NHS Trust Director, Mike got in touch with Healthwatch Essex in November 2018 because he wanted to ‘give something back’ and help improve cancer care for people in Mid and South Essex. Although too unwell to work, Mike wanted to volunteer some of his time to Healthwatch’s Cancer Patient Partner project, to help people affected by cancer inform the design of new local services.
Mike was particularly passionate about the need for greater support during treatment and improvements in communication. He also advocated strongly for patients to be treated as real people, often saying “Cancer is just one part of my life, not all of it!”.
By being open and honest about his own diagnosis, Mike encouraged others to take the opportunity to speak up about how services could better meet people’s needs. The last contribution he made to the project before he passed away was to participate in a panel event during ‘Dying Matters’ week. He and his wife talked about the difficulty of preparing for end of life and the importance of being ‘ready’. This was shared across Essex during the awareness week to encourage more conversations about what people and their families need from end of life care.
In his final few weeks, Mike told Healthwatch that he wants the team to use everything he shared about his experience to try and effect change for other people affected by cancer, which they intend to do. A truly inspirational man, the Healthwatch community is incredibly grateful to Mike and his family for everything they did to try and make other people’s cancer journeys better.