COVID-19: Guidance for local Healthwatch lead officers

With strict COVID-19 restrictions still in place across England, we have reviewed our guidance for local Healthwatch leaders to consider at this time.

Key areas of focus

The following sections are the key areas where we believe local Healthwatch leaders should focus their attention.

Continue to keep abreast of Government guidance

The Government, as well as relevant agencies, continues to update and evolve guidance that aims to control transmission and prevent further spread of the disease, through steps such as national restrictions and social distancing measures. 

It is important to keep abreast of these changes by regularly visiting the Government’s COVID-19 guidance page. 

Find out more

Healthwatch England also produces resources to help provide advice and information to local communities.

Find out more

Protect staff, volunteers and the public

The Board of the legal entity for your local Healthwatch (e.g. Community Interest Company, a company limited by guarantee, Charitable Incorporated Organisation) has ultimate responsibility for employees and volunteers' safety and welfare.

We strongly encourage you to refer to Health and Safety Executive guidance when making any decisions that might put the safety of staff and volunteers at risk.

The HSE guidance states that you must:

  • Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus;
  • Think about who could be at risk;
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed; and
  • Act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

Find out more

The NCVO has also produced further details on how to carry out a risk assessment, including a risk register template.

Continue to gather people’s experiences of care

It’s never been more important to hear from local people about their needs and experiences in relation to COVID-19 and other services, particularly where it relates to the safety of patients and service users.

You should aim to share this with key local partners and stakeholders as soon as possible to inform their plans as they unfold. Please also share any insight with Healthwatch England so that we can keep national policymakers informed.

Share your insight

Find virtual ways to discharge your functions

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 strongly advise against holding face-to-face events, including visiting health and care premises. The safety of staff, volunteers and members of the public remain paramount. You should consider whether there are safe alternative approaches to achieving the same outcomes or choosing alternative work.

In reaching this view, we have considered the Care Quality Commission's approach. The CQC has prioritised keeping people safe and has halted routine inspections of health and care premises. It only carries out inspections where it has been alerted to serious concerns about people’s care or human rights breaches.

Who to talk to before restarting face-to-face engagement

This situation may change over the months ahead, but before restarting face-to-face engagement or visits to health and social care services, we would strongly advise discussing the situation with:

  • Your Healthwatch England Network Development Team Regional Manager to understand our current position;
  • Your local Care Quality Commission team to understand their approach; and
  • Your local authority commissioner and any partners or services you intend to work with to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment.

Exploring virtual visits

Unable to visit services in person, some local Healthwatch are carrying out ‘virtual visits’. Working in partnership with care organisations, local authority commissioners and the Care Quality Commission to carry out interviews via video link, over the telephone or online with service users, their families and staff. Although this cannot be legally classified as ‘Enter and View’ activity, it can still help gather evidence during the current situation.

Focus on taking an inclusive approach

Coronavirus continues to have a disproportionate impact on certain groups within our communities, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people. Local Healthwatch services have a key role in making sure that every section of the community's experiences are heard.

In addition, Healthwatch England established several new initiatives and worked with local Healthwatch colleagues to produce guidance on: 

Further help

Join the conversation on the COVID-19 Workplace Group to ask questions, find out the latest news and access key resources like our watch list of key COVID-19 issues we are monitoring.

Join the chat