These have been incredibly challenging times for all organisations connected with health and social care and there is no doubt that their staff have risen to those challenges above and beyond the call of duty. I am enormously proud of the way Healthwatch has played their part in ensuring that the voice of people using services has continued to be heard while at the same time being really flexible in offering help where help has been needed.
It is clear through recent announcements that the Government sees the nation as being on a journey out of lockdown. Local Healthwatch across the country have done a fantastic job in making their presence felt through remotely run services, supporting the public to get the right information, and assisting health and social care services, particularly when it comes to patient safety.
We now have an important role to play as the country explores the path to recovery, continuing to support both people and professionals alike. Over the past two months, Healthwatch has amassed a wealth of knowledge, and we must use this insight to assist services and communities return to a ‘new normal’.
We will continue to support you with the vital work staff and volunteers have been doing to provide public advice and information, share real-time feedback with services and support the community efforts against COVID-19.
However, to ensure we are using our collective resources to achieve the maximum impact, we will be focusing on a number of areas of work.
Supporting you to get back on track
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we and health and social care services work - changes that present both opportunities and challenges now and for the future. To find our way in this ‘new normal’ we will need to bring together the collective expertise of the network. Having spoken to leaders across the network, we intend to focus our initial efforts on helping to address the following issues:
- What are the best techniques for engaging people online, whilst we work remotely?
- How can we reach people who may be excluded, particularly those without online access?
- How can we support services that may use remote contact for non-COVID treatment?
- Face-to-face engagement and visits to services will return, but how can we do this safely?
Promoting the benefits of public feedback
We need the public to be clear how they can support NHS and social care services to recover by sharing their experiences. This is why, in partnership with the Care Quality Commission, we will be launching a public awareness campaign to encourage people to speak up.
Thank you to colleagues who input on the campaign concepts, your feedback has been invaluable. The campaign will present a significant opportunity for us to get Healthwatch recognised across England. However, to make the biggest impact, we need you and the whole network to take part and promote it locally.
We are interested in hearing local case studies from both people and professionals about their experiences of COVID-19 and hospital discharge. Whilst all stories are welcomed, we particularly want to hear case studies where there has been a positive impact due to people speaking up.
The campaign launch is timed so you can use it as a hook for publishing your annual report, as well as adapt it to suit your own local priorities and work.
Working together to tackle key policy issues
As a network you said you wanted notice of our national priorities to help you plan and get involved. We will be looking at several key policy priorities over the coming months, that can help services recover and learn from COVID-19.
Firstly, we will look at people’s experience of being discharged from hospital into the community and care homes. With an initial drive to collect people’s experiences in July, we will be contacting you soon to set out the ways you can get involved and support this project. To make this work a success, we need all of you to share evidence with us and take part.
Many local Healthwatch are already monitoring the following topics, so we will also be returning to examine these more closely once the hospital discharge research is underway:
- Social care, particularly the impact of easements locally
- Primary care
- Digital exclusion
Thank you and please keep sharing your insight with us
Finally, as it is Volunteers’ Week, I would like to say a big thank you to all our outstanding Healthwatch volunteers. Their contribution has helped us make care better for millions of people across the country, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know some of our volunteers have taken the right decision to shield or care for others, but their contribution throughout the year has been invaluable.
I would also like to thank all Chairs of local Healthwatch for your valuable ideas and suggestions of how we can work together to tackle the current situation and would urge you to keep on sharing. Please keep those coming, and please continue to share with us and the public the good work you have been doing!