Work to prevent the abuse of people with sensory impairments, help reunite care home residents with their families and train people to access their care online are just three of the projects that have been recognised at the annual Healthwatch awards.
The awards were presented during Healthwatch Week – a virtual conference celebrating the vital work of Healthwatch which featured high-profile speakers including NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard and historian and BAFTA award-winning TV presenter/producer Prof David Olusoga.
In 2020/21 Healthwatch across the country supported over two million people to have their say on care or get the advice they needed. Our annual awards celebrate the work of more than 4,000 local Healthwatch volunteers and staff who help the public with advice and find out the issues people face with NHS and social care so that services can improve.
Find out more about this year's winners:
The five award categories and their winners were:
Engagement - Healthwatch Reading
At the start of the pandemic, the Government placed asylum seekers in hotels to ensure everyone had COVID-19-secure accommodation. But in Reading, they were struggling to get the health and care they needed.
Healthwatch Reading wanted to change this. Using interpreters and translated information, they helped 43 asylum seekers to tell their stories and the problems they were facing.
Using what they had found, Healthwatch Reading worked with their MP to raise these issues in Parliament. At the same time, their findings were reported by BBC Radio Berkshire and covered in the Reading Chronicle. As a result of Healthwatch Reading's tireless work to give asylum seekers a voice, the NHS and local authority agreed to fund a caseworker specifically for them. This has meant more asylum seekers registering with a GP and, crucially, getting the care and treatment they needed.
COVID-19 response - Healthwatch Essex
People living with sensory impairments told Healthwatch Essex they found adhering to COVID-19 restrictions difficult. They couldn't see one-way systems in shops, read COVID-related signage, identify where hand sanitiser was and, in some instances, communicate effectively through masks.
As a result, disabled people were experiencing abuse from the public, who thought they purposely ignored the guidelines.
Healthwatch Essex jumped into action and worked closely with their Disability and Carers Forum to create a campaign raising awareness of the unique challenges people with sensory impairments were facing.
Working directly with people who experienced this daily abuse, they created a film and a supporting campaign to help people see what life was like for people with sensory impairment. They listened closely to the things they found most challenging and described what those looked and felt like to create an accurate portrayal to encourage awareness, tolerance, and kindness.
The campaign reached more than 40,000 people online, was displayed in many major transport hubs and hospitals across the region and resulted in media coverage across newspapers, radio and TV, creating an estimated reach of nearly 170,000 people.
The Disability and Carers Forum said that the campaign made a significant difference in how they have experienced people interacting with them and felt their voice had been heard.
Celebrating our volunteer team - Healthwatch Islington
The pandemic resulted in many health and care services stopping face-to-face appointments, moving appointments entirely online. While these overnight changes worked for some, many people were left unable to get the care they needed.
In Islington, Healthwatch volunteers wanted to help people to use digital systems to make sure they could still use NHS and social care services. To do so, they hosted an ongoing training programme, which included online training, workshops and events with trusted health services so that people could learn how to use online appointments and then put that training into practice.
As a result, people felt more confident using online services and apps in their daily life. For example, using Google maps to find their way to a COVID-19 vaccination site, having a GP appointment using e-consult or selecting accessibility options on smartphones during calls.
Both Digital Unite and the Good Things Foundation have praised the work Islington volunteers have done, acknowledging the difference it has made to people's lives.
Healthwatch Islington is now also part of Borough-wide decisions on digital inclusion, ensuring even more residents get the help and support they need to use digital healthcare.
Tackling inequalities - Healthwatch Leeds
During the pandemic, family and friends couldn't visit their loved ones in care homes, resulting in residents feeling isolated and lonely and often having a devastating impact on their mental and physical health.
Healthwatch Leeds decided something needed to change. As they couldn't speak to care homes residents directly, they asked relatives to tell them about their family member's experiences. To do this, they worked with Leeds Older People's Forum and Carers Leeds to develop surveys, hearing from 40 relatives of care home residents from 15 different care homes.
Using the experiences people shared, Healthwatch Leeds raised the issues people faced at high-level meetings across the city and county, including the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Integrated Care System. They went on to work with partners to develop resources for care homes and families explaining about the vital role of ‘essential care giver’ in the new government guidance on care home visiting.
Nationally their report influenced Healthwatch England’s letter and discussions with the Department for Health and Social Care on the issue of care home visiting. Their videos and ‘mythbuster’ resources about essential care givers have been promoted as a resource by the National Care Forum, Maria Mallaband Care Group, The Carers Trust and several other local Healthwatch - but they didn't stop there!
To ensure relatives could get a COVID-19 test to see their loved ones, Helathwatch Leeds worked with their local Health Protection Team to get a temporary PCR testing facility set up. They also worked with the Leeds City Council Care Quality Team to set up web pages for friends and relatives of people in care homes. Plus, circulated a leaflet to all Leeds care homes to send out to families, outlining where help and support are available, including the Healthwatch Leeds information and advice line.
Because of their dedication, Healthwatch Leeds were able to provide a platform to relatives of care home residents to get their voices heard, when the wellbeing of their loved ones wasn't always being prioritised.
Working with your integrated care system – Healthwatch in North East London
The way health and care services are created and run is changing. Across the country, regional Integrated Care Systems are being set up, meaning the way Healthwatch will champion people's voices will also change.
To ensure that local people's experiences are at the heart of health and care services, it's vital that local Healthwatch work together and with their Integrated Care System.
In North East London, eight Healthwatch are already doing this. By combining their knowledge of their local areas, the experiences that people share with them and the different barriers face, they have been able to identify trends, variations and differences in health and care - helping to tackle and reduce inequalities.
As a result, their Integrated Care System has improved hospital communication systems, created more equal GP services, and designed new models of care.
For local Healthwatch, there have been significant benefits too. They now have more evidence to base their work on; they're more quickly able to identify critical issues people are experiencing and have better relationships with communities facing health inequalities.
The Healthwatch in North East London are: Healthwatch Barking and Dagenham, Healthwatch City of London, Healthwatch Hackney, Healthwatch Havering, Healthwatch Newham, Healthwatch Redbridge, Healthwatch Tower Hamlets and Healthwatch Waltham Forest.
Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England, said:
“The last 16 months have been a time of unprecedented challenge as we all grappled with the impact of COVID-19, yet Healthwatch across England all rose to meet that challenge magnificently and went the extra mile to look after their local communities in a moment of crisis.
“The Healthwatch Awards have been a fantastic chance to showcase how Healthwatch makes such a difference to people’s lives and its tireless work during the pandemic is a perfect example of this. The awards also serve to highlight how, by sharing your experience with Healthwatch or giving up your time to volunteer, you can make a real difference to your community.”
Get in touch with your local Healthwatch
Do you have an experience you'd like to share or need help in finding a health or social care service? Your local Healthwatch is here for you.