“I remember when we first got news about coronavirus hitting the UK, me and my colleagues were really scared. As a professional, you’ve got to remain calm and do your job, but you can’t help worrying about making the right decision for patients, and the risk of infecting my little boy at home was also at the back of my mind.
“As a social worker it’s my job to make sure that when people are ready to leave hospital, they have the right care in place. That means that they have somewhere safe to live and support in place to help them. If I feel they need some extra help, we’ll discuss the options together and decide what would work best for them.
“Because of the pandemic, my manager told us that the hospital was making changes based on guidance from the Coronavirus Act. They needed to get patients out of hospital as quickly as possible to avoid infection, but also free up beds for others, as so many new people were being admitted to hospital.
The hardest part was seeing people’s choices taken away from them
“Before the pandemic I loved talking to my patients and their families to understand what they needed. But because of coronavirus, social workers weren’t allowed on the wards. What that meant was I was making decisions about people’s care without even meeting or talking to them, which is just poor practice and none of us were happy about it.
“We asked doctors and nurses to fill out a form to find out patients’ needs. But as they were often rushed off their feet, it meant anyone around would fill it in. Sometimes the form came back to us with only a few words on it, missing lots of vital information, and I had to decide what to do based on that. Most days I didn’t even have time for a break, it was just about getting the very basic care arrangements in place in the limited time I had.
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“The tough part was seeing how this affected my patients. Sometimes we were trying to help people leave hospital so quickly that they had been sent to a care home before we even had a chance to notify their family. Understandably the lack of communication was very unsettling for family members who didn’t know where their loved one had ended up. Often the care home was far from home, which was even harder to deal with during lockdown.
“I remember one patient – Maureen – had notes on her form saying she didn’t seem mentally capable of making a decision for herself. So, when she was ready to be discharged, I arranged for transport to take her to a care home to be looked after. But when the hospital transport arrived, Maureen was upset and confused because she didn’t want to go to a care home, and wanted to stay with a family member. If I had been able to just have one conversation with her, none of this would have happened, and Maureen would have been able to talk to me about what she wanted.
I’m angry that people were put at risk when they were discharged from hospital
“Although doctors were trying their best to send people home from hospital as quickly as possible, our patients weren’t always 100% ready. The doctors would say a patient was medically fit to be discharged, when they weren’t. It was really disheartening to see patients returning to hospital after a day or two because they were still unwell. I saw a few familiar faces in my case load two to three times. It’s not good for anyone when this happens – it’s stressful for the person and their loved ones, it costs the hospital more money, and it’s just not efficient.
“The most upsetting thing was initially the hospital didn’t test patients who were being discharged from hospital for coronavirus, in line with guidance. So, we had older people who had contracted coronavirus going back into care homes and infecting other vulnerable people. A lot of relatives complained about this, and I’m glad the rules changed so that now it’s compulsory for everyone being discharged from hospital to be swabbed first.
We really need patients and families to tell us when things are wrong
“Me and my colleagues found it stressful working under these circumstances, especially when you just want the best for the people you’re looking after. It’s so important for people to speak up when things aren’t right. The hospital I work for did receive complaints about the way things were handled, and along with feedback from staff, it did push those in charge to make some serious changes, which I’m sure has helped save lives.
“It’s great to see Healthwatch getting the message out there that it’s your right to say when things aren’t working. With enough people speaking up, large scale changes can be made so that someone else doesn’t have to experience the same thing.
There are positives too
“Right now, all care is paid for through a special COVID-19 fund. It’s made a huge difference to getting care in place for my patients. For example, special equipment and transport is usually available on the same day. However, before the pandemic it would take an extra 3-4 days for me to secure funding on behalf of patients, and that meant they were stuck in hospital longer than necessary, putting them at further risk of infection. I really hope this is something the Government and councils continue to do.
“On a personal note, whilst it’s been a very tough few months – I’ve cried more than I can tell you – me and my colleagues are closer than we have ever been, and it’s been so lovely to see all the public support for the sacrifices we’ve made.”