Easing lockdown: Return to work guidance

We share the key issues local Healthwatch Chairs and CEOs should consider in the 'new normal' to best protect staff, volunteers, and the public, as lockdown measures ease.
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Protecting staff, volunteers and the public

The Government issued ‘Our plan to rebuild’ – a roadmap on how and when the UK will adjust out of lockdown. 

To support local Healthwatch, we have outlined information to help you understand:

  • How to make sure staff and volunteers work and volunteer safely.
  • What Trustees/Advisory Group Members should consider about the impact of COVID-19 on the work of local Healthwatch.
  • Meeting the requirements to hold meetings in public.
  • Engagement activities which should be considered. 
  • What to consider when involving and managing volunteers.

How to make sure staff and volunteers are safe

Board of Trustees have legal responsibilities as employers towards staff, as well as a duty of care to staff and volunteers.

The Government advice is that employers should take all reasonable steps to make sure employees and volunteers can continue to work from home. However, if it isn’t possible to work from home, and as the lockdown eases, the Government has provided these guidelines for workplaces

Healthwatch should be mindful of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, older people and people with underlying conditions. We recommend that conversations take place with staff and volunteers about any concerns they have returning to the office and/or undertaking face-to-face work.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NVCO) has provided advice for employers, which covers areas such as working safely, travel arrangements, employees’ rights, and risk assessment.

HR specialist Croner helpline is also offering free advice to voluntary organisations.

What Trustees/Advisory Group Members should consider about the impact of COVID-19 on the work of local Healthwatch

NVCO has produced a set of questions that Trustees should be asking, including:

  • A refocus on activities.
  • Thinking about partnerships so you can continue to deliver your work.
  • Extra support for staff, volunteers, and the people you want to engage with.

Engagement activities which should be considered

Pre COVID-19, much of Healthwatch activity involved meeting the public face-to-face.

During the pandemic, Healthwatch England previously advised local Healthwatch not to hold face-to-face events or return to do their work on health and care premises, including Enter and View activity.

Given the current situation, we continue to advise against holding face-to-face events, including carrying out Enter and View activity. This is based on government guidance, and the associated risk factors for staff, volunteers, and members of the public.

This is an ever-changing situation, at some point Healthwatch will consider face-to-face activity again. Before commencing such activity, we strongly advise you to speak to your Healthwatch England Regional Manager, your local commissioner, and the services you intend to work with. We will meanwhile develop guidance on face-to-face activity with the network.

We have considered the approach of the Care Quality Commission, who have prioritised keeping people safe, halted routine inspections, and only carry out inspections where they have been alerted to serious concerns about people’s care or human rights breaches. 

We are aware that local Healthwatch are considering the future of engagement activity. To support this, we will be arranging a series of online discussions (dates to be confirmed) for Healthwatch staff carrying out engagement activities on:

  • Using digital engagement to gather people’s views.
  • Engagement methods to reach people who are not connected digitally.
  • What we should consider to ensure safe face-to-face engagement post lockdown. This will include consideration of how Healthwatch might apply its powers of Enter and View visits.

From these discussions we want to establish a working group for staff whose role includes engagement, so we can continue ensuring we support local Healthwatch to engage with different sections of their communities effectively.

Meeting the requirements to hold meetings in public

Healthwatch are required to hold meetings in public when they are making ‘relevant decisions’ as defined in legislation, this does not state whether these must be held as physical meetings.

The Government advice remains against the movement and gathering of people, so it is advisable to consider holding meetings remotely.  We draw your attention to guidance issued by the Charity Commission on holding meetings, including ensuring accessibility is considered.

You should refer to your governing document to ensure you understand what it says about holding meetings, including AGM’s. NCVO have produced advice on coronavirus and governance which covers charities. This references a court ruling that for legal purposes, a meeting should require people to be able to both see and hear each other, which would include video conferencing.

What to consider when involving and managing volunteers

Volunteers play an important role at Healthwatch, and many have stepped into new roles to support their community. We have published volunteer role descriptions, and also guidance for Healthwatch on managing volunteers remotely.

NCVO has produced useful guidance on involving and managing volunteers during COVID-19, covering:

  • How volunteers are affected by lockdown.
  • Safeguarding for staff managing volunteers.
  • Data protection.
  • Coronavirus testing for volunteers.
  • Recognising and reporting scams.

Healthwatch England events and meetings

Due to COVID-19, Healthwatch England is not holding any face-to-face meetings until further notice.

We have however increased the number of online sessions for staff, volunteers and Board members.

From the beginning of lockdown to the end of May, 565 Healthwatch staff and Board members have joined us for one of our online sessions. This approach has undoubtedly meant we have met many more of you over the past few months which has been positive.

We’ve got more online sessions planned, including workshops in increasing your impact, CRM reporting, call handling and difficult conversations training, as well as a week-long virtual Conference between 2 – 6 November 2020.

Are you confused by advice from national and local Governments? Talk to us.

With so much guidance coming out, it can be difficult to provide authoritative advice - particularly if your local authority is taking a slightly different approach to national government. As each case is different, we can’t offer a strategy to suit all, however we can help you determine the best steps for your Healthwatch.

Talk to us

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